7 Critical Steps to Successful Order Management System Implementation

While there are many critical issues in implementing order management systems, warehouse management systems, or eCommerce platforms; we have chosen the 7 topics which from our experience are the most important: 

  • Project Management
  • Process Improvement and Best practice Implementation
  • Systems Parameter Configurations
  • Successful File Conversions
  • Training and Procedures
  • Multiple Instances of the Software and Database

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1. Project Management

Planning the project realistically and then executing or managing the project by the plan is often where conversions to new systems get off track.  Companies spend hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars and don’t do a good job of planning.  Then they are surprised at the negative results.  After 29 years of working with companies and vendors in the multichannel industry to implement systems, there are many possibilities that negatively affect projects.  Plans are often not realistic from the beginning and lack any estimates to back up the detail tasks and dates.  Projects often slip from their original planned dates. 

We have seen every major software company make or allow major mistakes to happen during conversions.  We’ve seen software companies expect the same project teams to manage multiple conversions in the same time frame spreading out their resources too thin. Additionally, we have seen vendor teams that don’t have the long term experience either with the application or haven’t worked in large and complex businesses.

At the same time we have experienced just as many or more issues with the user companies implementing the software.  Remember that these major systems projects whether order management systems, warehouse management systems, or eCommerce platforms are not just IT projects.  But management often just assumes the vendor will implement it or their IT department will. We recommend that companies join in the project planning process,
maintain awareness of the plan’s details and have some degree of control over the implementation.  

We recommend that all key user departments have representation on the project team (call center, eCommerce, distribution center, merchandising, inventory control, marketing, finance, etc.) with responsibilities for conversion, training and successful completion of the project tasks.  Get the full project team in place and make them accountable for success.

The vendor should have a project methodology that is time tested.  They will provide a high level, general plan. Your job is to develop the detailed plan with the vendor backed up with
detail tasks and estimates.  Let me give you an example.  A generalized plan you may have a list of modifications developed. But what are the details that need to be itemized:  research, specifications, sign-offs, program specs, programming and the various levels of testing and program integration back into the base system.  Another big miss is having identified management’s highest use reports.  We have seen systems go live and initially management can’t access their most used reports.  The planning lacks a lot.

Plan the go-live during the slowest period of time in your business.  A number of years ago we were working with a $300 million business and they demanded that the system be implemented; even though the project team was off track.  They thought the project was further along than it was and their rationale was, “How bad can it be?”.  They got their answer in a failed implementation.  If there were sufficient contingency plans in place the system could have been implemented successfully; but later in the year. 

What are the internal resources that your company will need for the conversion? Companies are very lean and they often lack the department management's time to plan and implement the new system. Assisting with the implementation may be where outside consultant resources can take up some of the slack and bring expertise which your organization may not have. Developing modification specs, conversion details and programming, making changes in process, implementing data warehouse and reporting, development of user training materials and standard operating procedures and regular team meetings all take considerable time.

READ: 10 Critical Mistakes to Avoid in Systems Selection and Implementation  Projects

The systems project should have a senior manager that acts as the project sponsor and the project should be reviewed periodically by the steering committee to track its progress.  In this way the senior management on down to the department managers are committed to success.

Once you have a plan that makes sense, make sure you manage by the plan. This sounds so elementary but many companies and vendors fail to do so. Early in the project publish a bi-weekly status report.  Once you get within a couple of months of go-live it may serve you better to have weekly conference call meetings and status updates.  Within 30 days of go-live,
hold daily meetings and list out what is to be achieved. 

2.  Process Improvement and Best Practice Implementation

Just a word about changing processes.  Many companies fail to address process and procedure improvements that will come with the use of the new system.  As a result they are less
apt to gain the desired efficiency. Critical to implementing systems is to rethink how the processes and systems which surround the automated systems need to change as the system is installed.  

These process changes will vary with the type of systems.  Take for example in warehouse management systems, it may include vendor compliance, reporting of trouble receipts, implementing new methods of picking, inventory cycle counting procedures, etc.?

In order management systems, it may be a totally different approach to servicing the customer, or management reporting, interface and support of web customers, balancing and interfaces between order management system and financial/accounting systems, refund and
credit processes between customer service and returns processing. 

What existing procedures and systems can be stripped away to add efficiency? What new processes and procedures are required or desirable?  What best practices should be considered and implemented? 

3. System Parameter Configuration

  • “Customizing” an Application Without Modifications

–   Most applications have hundreds of system control switches

–   Understand the consequences of how a switch is set

–   Incorporate industry best practices in setting switches

Understand  -  Set  -  Test  -  Modify  -  Repeat

Be sure to leave plenty of time to accommodate all these steps with thorough testing

READ: 13 Information Technology Cost Reduction & Productivity Improvement Ideas

4. Successful File Conversions

  • Customer File

–   How clean or reliable is the data you are looking to convert?

–   Are there loyalty or membership components to the file?

    • Is this a separate file or database?

–   Are there Accounts Receivable components tied to the customer records?

–   Where should you pull your customer file from?

    • List manager or service provider

–   Will you convert summary or detail data?

  • Item File

–   Can you maintain your current item numbering schema?

–   How much usable data could be converted or would be usable?

–   What critical item attributes need to be accommodated?

    • Hazmat, ship alone, personalized, etc.

–   The item file is one of the most complex files

  • Order File

–   How many years of data is realistic to convert?

–   How clean or reliable is the data you are looking to convert?

–   Will you convert summary or detail data?

–   How should open orders and backorders be supported?

  • Additional Files

–   Warehouse bin location schema; will it be reused?

–   Vendor file and associated purchase orders

–   Offer and source code files

–   Shipping & processing tables

–   Literally hundreds of other tables to consider

How will you validate that the tables/data have been converted properly?

5. Software Training and Procedures

–  Vendor docs vs. training materials vs. Company Operating Procedures

–  Train the trainer environment

–  Have the correct person(s) for the job of training

–  Budget for additional training – you will need it and use it!

    • Be sure the training environment is ready at the
      right time
      • Hardware
        and software are installed and running
      • Test
        data needs to be loaded
    • Plan out all the scenarios to be tested in
    • System control switches need to be set
      • May modify even at this point
    • Begin immediately after vendor training

6. Thorough Testing

–   This may be the one single biggest factors for success

–   Unit test

–   Testing by functional area

–   Conference Room Pilot approach

7. Site Environment Considerations

–   You will need multiple instances of the software/database

    • Development
    • Training
    • Conversion Rolls into Production

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