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Progress update – our management information system

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Peter Thompson
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The first phase of our new software platform project, that I introduced in this article, has been completed.

It was called the Discovery and documentation phase and wow, what a task! It has taken a great deal of resources just to get to this point, however it has proven to be a very important part of the process.

Because we have an existing software system working day-to-day, we have been able to define the parts that we like about the current system and have identified gaps where the improvements needed to be made.

The approach that we have used to date has been to say “given a perfect world, how exactly would an ideal system function?”. What features and functionality do we require that will give us a competitive advantage and drive efficiencies?

The Discovery and documentation phase involved conducting meetings with different team members to understand their challenges, what they find frustrating and how a better system would benefit them and function to their advantage. For this we used video and descriptive writing techniques.

We broke the different sections of the future systems into modules. For example, accounting, provisioning, support, sales, service qualification, customer portal and so on.

All in all, we discovered there were approximately twenty two modules needed in order to meet our existing and future requirements. Did I mention a whole lot of money too?

The second component of the Discovery and documentation phase involved developing standard templates where requirements specification was made for each of those modules. Additionally, we had to make flow charts and use cases in order to get the documentation to a point where it can be presented to a third party so that they knew what we were actually trying to achieve.

This will conclude the first phase of the new system. Several people working full time, trying to both understand how the business currently functions and what it will look like in the future and how this software will drive our growth.

As many of you are working with software, the purchase, development and integration on a daily basis, you will appreciate the complexity and the cost associated with it.

During this phase, we have drawn some valuable conclusions. The first is that the software we built 13 years ago was actually pretty good. We were thinking well in advance and it served us well. We have definitely taken some concepts and used it as a good foundation for our vision.

Another conclusion is that without excellent documentation, you won’t know entirely what you require and will waste a great deal of time on discussions with different software vendors as you try to piece together a solution.

With third party vendors, it’s critical to have use cases and documentation so that you can say to them, “Prove that your software can do this or that”. And, if they can achieve what you ask from them, there is a good chance that you can have a successful business relationship. If not, at least they won’t make the cut of possible providers.

The third conclusion we drew is that we are looking for a single platform to deliver all of our requirements. Yes, it’s called the nirvana. A single login, with access to relevant applications, a common interface and live data. We want to deliver functionality that meets the needs of all of the stakeholders.

The fourth conclusion is that the website should no longer appear like a satellite database and customer interface but rather be a central communication point. That might sound obvious, however the implementation is incredibly complex.

We haven’t yet reached all of the conclusions about the path forward for our new information system but we think we are getting very close to answers that once appeared impossible.

We see the next part as bringing on pieces one at a time. We don’t see in the future some kind of giant switch where we stop using all systems one day and start using the new ones the next.

The implementation of such a vast system requires an intense amount of work, incredibly high attention to detail and patience. The project is marathon, not a sprint.

I am wary to share too much more information now in order not to jinx the project. You are welcome to contact me directly or post a question if you are interested to know further information.

I will keep you posted as we make progress, right here on The GCOMM Post.

♦ End

About Peter Thompson

Peter Thompson
Peter Thompson founded GCOMM in 1996. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Software Engineering/Information Systems from Griffith University and his MBA from Nyenrode Business Universiteit in Holland. He believes in building great teams of people, both in business and socially.
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