“Can there ever be a cookie cutting approach to digitalisation project?”
I started implementing Salesforce.com when they first came to Singapore in 2004. My first project was for a management consulting company based in Hamburg for 5 users. From this very first project, I learned much about management consulting as a business and how they manage their business. It was an invaluable experience working with senior consultants from all over the world. I had to understand their needs and learned how to encapsulate their needs into the system to capture the data needed to empower them to make better decisions. Consultants are problem solvers and critical thinkers, hence they are able to articulate and define their needs clearer. As a system’s consultant we tend to take in the culture of the company we work with and then proceeded to design the system in accordance to the people who wanted the way the system to work for them. Incorporating new ideas and actualising it in the system was a fun process. The system gradually took shape and because I was an introspective and analytical person, I could see why all the functions took the form it eventually ended up in.
In my next CRM project, it was for a publicly listed company with a revenue of about SGD300 million and 50 sales people in Singapore. On the surface, we were trying to replace the sales reporting system using spreadsheet with Salesforce.com. We formed a project team consisting of senior sales managers and champion sales users working together to define the processes and designing the functions to automate the process. Our goal was to cut down the workload of the sales people and to make data available for sales analysis using dashboards and reports. We had good executive support from the CEO and the SVP of Sales and Marketing. The team knows eventually all the data will be seen and used by the management team was both a motivation and also pressure to ensure we deliver the success demanded of them. From this experience I learned the importance of executive sponsorship for projects to succeed. SingPost was a quasi-government organisation and it had a certain culture which I needed to operate within. The way new ideas were thought through and accepted is not the same as the previous project mentioned above. However, one common thread is the resistance to change when users felt uncertain about the ideas. The way to work in such situations is always respecting the views of all members, but logically lay things out for the folks to understand. Eventually what they chose defines the system and the final outcome of it.
Fast forward a few years I had the privilege of working with three companies selling digital media namely Yahoo and Google in Singapore, and I knew the three owners very well. When I finally completed the three projects with the last one being the largest in terms of complexity and value, I’ve learned something very profound comparing the projects. Every business is unique because of the people. The owners, the CEOs, the end-users and the cultures of the organisations largely determine how the system will be implemented.
“Digitalisation projects can never be a cookie cutting business.”
I started this business after leaving IBM with the mission to bring best practices to SMEs so they can become world class enterprises. The mission was simple, learn from the best and apply the knowledge and experience to the smaller companies so they can compete. The beauty at that time was the launch of Salesforce.com with the slogan of “No Software” meaning users don’t have to deal with the complexities of software but using it like utilities. They promised to make highly complex software systems affordable and less cumbersome to implement and run. They had functions and features that only big companies can have and small ones can dream of. It was perfect to adopt an all out effort to innovate and empower these smaller organisations with technology prowess to compete. During the earlier years, I was overly passionate about my ideas and tried very hard to push them through. Some were accepted but the ideas didn’t produce the optimum outcome. I forgot that some of the changes recommended were too big a step for the organisation to embrace, hence in execution the benefits were not fully realised.
In principle you can apply the best practices, but the way these best pracrtices are adopted are different. As a consultant, it is important to know what we can change in the best practice without losing its essence and effect. Once the essence of the recommendation is lost, then it will lose its effect.
Every business is unique not because of the idea only but largely due to the people. The way facts and information are interpreted, the way people think and accept risks or mitigate them and the collectiveness of the company, its identity manifested in the culture they worked in. Another key aspect I’ve learned is the willingness to change and how working as a team we embrace change. Change is always risky and uncomfortable and people make adjustments to deal with this aspect of change resulting in different outcomes from the same idea.
Encapsulating the ideas and the knowledge of the people we work with is one of the most joyous thing to do. Harnessing the collective intelligence of the people and respectfully rejecting those that cannot be implemented either due to cost of feasibility is an imperative to success. Finally, let me leave you with this quote:
“The boundary of the system is limited by our imagination and willingness to take risks.”