When it comes to finding the right application for your business the challenge is more than just technical, according to Nita Martin from consultancy firm Pure Indigo.

So you have been tasked with implementing a new enterprise application. It's part of the long term strategy to solve issues in visibility, consistency of service and to provide detailed intelligence. An all singing and all dancing system. Sounds great.

Now comes the tough part of finding an application that matches those requirements as closely as possible and then implementing it. The selection of the system is an important decision that's not easily reversible. The availability of resources being just one consideration.

The factors affecting selection will of course be based on technical merit. However, these will not be the sole concern of any programme manager looking to implement such a system.

Ensuring that stakeholder requirements are met, and that the system is actively used by the organisation, will be major factors in judging whether the implementation has been a success or not. For these reasons, it helps to ensure that you are as thorough as possible in your research and eventual decision.

Working through the following stages, and carefully documenting the results, can help to achieve delivery success. In addition, this information will help you to gain traction and engagement within the organisation during all phases of the implementation.

Document the requirements

It's tempting for stakeholders to request features that capture every eventuality. However, this can make it a nightmare from an application selection and implementation point of view. The scope of the required features needs to be drawn up as tightly as possible.

Keeping in control of this will be key in successfully meeting stakeholder expectations. The following approaches are useful in helping to differentiate between the 'must haves' and 'nice to haves'.

  • Separate essential features, without which the system will not be useful. Using this 'bare minimum' approach will highlight features that will make a real difference between success and failure of the system.
  • Rate each feature with a cost versus value approach. This tends to help you hone in on the most important features.
  • Similarly, a time to implement and ease of use versus value approach has the same effect.

This identification of acceptable trade-offs will create a true picture of the what the organisation actually needs and will use.

Understand the constraints

The earlier you look into the constraints that are likely to be imposed the better. This can help to rule out a number of potential candidates very quickly. No matter how wonderful the application you propose is, if it cannot operate within the constraints then it will be a no-go option.

Obvious examples include cost and delivery time. However, these are not the only ones that could put an end to discussions about a particular application. For example, if your organisation will only use Microsoft Office compatible applications, then this can quickly rule out certain contenders.

Equally, if the application has to meet certain standards for the computers used by the organisation. Finding these constraints out early on can save significant time during the research and selection stage. Ignoring this can be very costly, especially if show stopping constraints are discovered further down the line. Common constraints include:

  • Compatibility issues
  • Cost and delivery time
  • Availability of resources
  • Process of authorisation and sign off
  • Budget allocation

Draw up a list of likely candidates

Now with the basics in place, you can start to draw up a list of likely candidates. Some good places to start your research include:

  • Which enterprise applications are currently used internally?
  • Which off-the-shelf applications are popular in the marketplace?
  • What bespoke applications exist internally?
  • Are there any other third party applications that meet these requirements?

Often, it is also worth considering a bespoke development approach as a candidate too. You may additionally find that the combination of two or even three different applications working together look like they could offer a potential fit. In which case, do add this to the list and take the research to the next level.

At this stage, don't forget to do a quick check against the constraints defined in Stage 2 and whether there are any candidates that can be ruled out immediately on that basis. This is particularly important as the next stage requires an investigation and evaluation of the candidates that can be time consuming.

Create a checklist for application comparison

You should, by this stage, have a shortlist of potential candidates. It is best to create a detailed requirements and constraints checklist and then to rate each candidate against it.

Ideally, you want to have access to each application so that your evaluation is based on the actual capabilities of the product rather than whatever is claimed on the box. If possible, it is a good idea to create a quick test environment and to load it with sample data.

This process should also help to evaluate the system against usability and give an indication of the resources required to implement.

  • Investigate each application against the requirements and constraints checklist
  • Get access to a full working version of the application for your investigation
  • Load it with sample data
  • Assess it's usability
  • Get initial feedback from stakeholders

If after this process, you still don't have a clear winner then it's time to go back to Stage 3 and see if further research yields any additional candidates. If you are still unable to find an appropriate match, then it may indicate that bespoke development will be required.

Plan the roll-out with quick wins in mind

Once you have selected the application you will need to develop a detailed implementation plan. Some simple activities can help to secure a successful roll-out.

  • Start the roll-out with users that will quickly start using the system and work with them to iron out any remaining issues. These will be your quick wins.
  • Communicate this success with the rest of the organisation to help build momentum and traction
  • Organise 'train the trainer' workshops. This can greatly accelerate the uptake and help to push ownership of the application into the organisation.
  • Make sure support systems and processes in place.
  • Remember that different people learn in different ways and that it can help to have a range of techniques at your disposal to maximise your impact.

Finally, don't forget to plan in how you will track progress. It is essential to agree these targets with stakeholders early on. This will help you to steer the course towards a successful implementation.