Just back from spending some time with friends in Barcelona, one of whom is a senior IT executive at one of the larger FMCG companies, and one which I consider to be one of the most effective users of IT technology out there. As they are currently in the midst of a big CRM project not surprisingly conversation turned to the challenges of implementing new systems. So what follows are a few strands of their approach that I figure set them a little apart from the mainstream:
· A lot of effort goes into the planning for any IT project. They spend a lot of time establishing project feasibility and business case before any substantial investment is made.
· An IT deployment nearly always involves a change of business process. They rarely simply automate what they already do. They carefully research industry best practice and look to equal or ideally better it.
· They invest big because they know if things are done properly they will get an even bigger return.
· They place a big emphasis on getting it right first time, because they know re-implementing systems or putting in new systems every few years is a much more expensive route.
· They are prepared to spend a long time getting things right.
· They will occasionally implement short term tactical solutions but only as part of a broader strategic plan.
· Though they are an international company they recognize not all markets are the same. International operations can however generally be grouped based on similar requirements. While there are differences between groups, they ensure each group operates an identical set of processes.
· The change management, i.e. the getting people to use it, aspects of any project is taken very seriously and take up a lot of time and resources.
· Once a system is established the system is further enhanced but this is done uniformly across each individual group. No one is allowed to strike out on their own. If the process is further enhanced, it is further enhanced for everyone.
· The change control process is carefully regulated with a series of checks and balances. They manage it so no single senior executive, perhaps experiencing a rush of blood, can authorise changes without the consent of a broader cross-functional team. The governance function is established right at the start of the project.
While these guys are global FMCG, the points are relevent to virtually any deployment of information technology. I was particularly struck by how infrequently they simply automate an existing process without trying to fundamentally improve it, and how once the new best practice is embedded there’s no option but to follow it. You don’t see individual operations opting out and doing their own thing. The robust governance thinking was also interesting given leadership changes have often led to the demise of many an otherwise sound system.
Overall what comes out is a deep appreciation that IT will have a fundamental bearing on the future profitability of their business. It’s at the very heart of their business strategy, and it’s a key part of how they compete with other companies who see IT as a necessary evil rather than a source of competitive advantage.