We sing the praises of ‘flexible technology’ a lot here at HICX, because we believe there’s no excuse for modern systems to be anything other than highly-configurable and cost effective when it comes to their implementation and management.
In the modern world of seamless SaaS, it’s important for software vendors to embrace the chance to put control in the hands of business users and meet their genuine needs – not just the needs that we think they will need to address.
When talking about flexible technology solutions, we’re essentially talking about how easy it is for a system to adapt (or be adapted) to meet future requirements and changes that will inevitably occur.
Whether you’re building your own system or buying one from a vendor, you should always take flexibility into account.
In this blog we will look at the differences between rigid technologies and flexible technology solutions for businesses, so carry on reading if you want to know more about each.
Moving away from the idea of the one-time fix
Organisations need to move away from the mindset that there’s such a thing as a ‘one-time fix’ that can be put in place and forgotten about. If you do fall into such habits, you may find that what was a perfect solution when it was first implemented quickly starts to require changes. And inevitably, with changes come associated costs.
From the point of view of software vendors, the ideal situation is for a client to buy their system, install and run it straight out of the box (so to speak). This methodology doesn’t call for any customisation or bespoke requirements, meaning all the vendor has to do is sell it.
An alternative to this is to put in place a solution that is customised to meet the customer’s requirements, in the hope that there won’t be any need to make changes for a sustained period of time.
As you’ve probably guessed, we’re not great fans of the first approach. Every organisation has different internal processes that make it difficult to simply implement something flexible out of the box which is going to meet all of their needs.
Take, for example, a business that grows quickly through acquisition. Trying to integrate all of its new business units (and the different processes each one has) under one central system is going to be an unenviable challenge.
Even in the same sector, in very similar businesses workflow and internal processes can vary hugely for any number of reasons.
The second methodology, on the other hand, has a greater chance of success, as it takes the client’s needs into account. Now let’s look in more detail at the differences between flexible vs rigid technologies.
What is a rigid solution?
Even though rigid technology still plays a role in the procurement world – for example when it comes to transactional processes, such as Procure-to-Pay (P2P), where it’s more logical – if you start off down this path then you have to be prepared for challenges further down the line.
This problem can be exacerbated if there’s a lack of clarity about what exactly the client’s requirements are from the outset.
As experienced project manager Dalip Mahal puts it, “one of the root causes behind inflexible software is starting a software project before the requirements are complete and consistent enough. If you are forced to start building with incomplete and inconsistent requirements then you will end up with insufficient core architecture. Insufficient architecture will lead to failed projects and/or inflexible software that you will curse for years.”
While smaller companies may be able to operate within the confines of a rigid solution, because they don’t yet have the constraints of large-scale operations and silos, the same can’t be said for larger organisations that are likely to have many different departments and countless workflows.
As a side note, mid-size to large companies – those with operations in different countries and many suppliers – have generally opted to invest in blue ribbon software solutions that are deemed as being safe and reliable to use. The problem with this approach, as touched upon earlier, is that the need for changes in the future often isn’t taken into account, which creates issues given that change is inevitable and can happen suddenly, rather than gradually.
Flexible technology solutions: things to consider
While we are in favour of flexibility over rigidity, there are of course things that companies can do to make sure that they select the right software vendor to meet their needs and avoid any nasty surprises down the line.
It’s crucial to do as much research as possible, ensure that your RFI / RFP is detailed and question the vendors you’ve approached on specific aspects that you require and how they can meet potential future needs. Ideally, you want to have a detailed conversation with them in order to make sure that each party understands the other’s expectations.
On this point, subject matter expert Jean-Grégoire Manoukian says “responsible software vendors, those that genuinely care about the future wellbeing of their clients, offer a level of flexibility that fully addresses client needs, without creating a situation where it leads to a harmful use of the software system. This means taking the time to have a conversation and understanding the underlying challenges that users want to address.”
Aside from doing detailed analysis on who the best software vendor is for your organisation, it’s also important to be realistic with your own expectations. Just because every technology solution has labelled itself as a ‘flexible solution’ that is the ideal situation for your business, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true. Thorough research should help in weeding out those vendors who aren’t up to the job, but it’s also worth talking to analysts and industry experts such as Spend Matters who can offer advice.
Beyond this, you can also make use of time-limited, paid-for POCs (proof of concept). These allow you to get a real idea of how quickly a software vendor can achieve what they said they would. Naturally, as this is only a POC stage, it’s better to ask for them to meet specific requirements rather than trying to build an entire solution. Time limitations are a crucial aspect though, because otherwise anyone can claim to be able to quickly meet your needs.
Of course, cost will also always be an important factor when making a decision, and you have to consider how much any potential system will cost you over the long term – flexible or otherwise.
Flexible vs. rigid technology solutions – a shifting market
“A company’s unrealistic expectations regarding total cost of ownership is often the first domino to fall in an ERP failure. This leads to failure because companies end up cutting corners on activities that are critical success factors.”
“Inaccurately estimating ERP project costs is more common than you might think. In fact, ERP vendors typically outline a one-dimensional estimate of implementation costs. These estimates often fail to include hidden expenses, like internal resources, external consultants and hardware upgrades.”
This quote from Panorama Consulting Group sums up the issues that commonly plague implementations of rigid systems such as ERP software and procurement suites – a failure to clarify expectations, which leads to greater costs.
These (often large) software vendors may not be going anywhere just yet, if only due to the fact that they are established brand names and have advertising budgets that can continue to support them, but the market is (finally) beginning to recognise the value of more specialised and flexible technology solutions.