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System Challenges For Organizations in a Recession
Nowadays, it is rare for an organization to undertake a major system initiative. In contrast, many organizations are struggling to survive and run basic operations, trying to do more with fewer employees. This article focuses on systems considerations for organizations in lean economic times in the context of enterprise systems.
Enterprise systems, staff reduction, and staff training
Systems do not exist in a vacuum. A “state of the art” system operated by too few or poorly trained personnel poses great risks to organizations. No HRIS or payroll system can possibly catch every type of error. The current economic situation has increased this risk. In terms of headcount, layoffs increase the vicious cycle of risk in organizations:
- Organizations have an incentive to trim staff and reduce—if not eliminate—formal training and learning opportunities for end-users.
- This reinforces many end-users’ bad habits and suboptimal processing methods.
- The responsibilities of many end-users have increased significantly
- In the event of layoffs, more work among fewer employees means less time for “cross-pollination.”
Management should be careful when cutting “non-essential” employees, as they may soon be needed. For example, an organization has four HR clerks to process paperwork. While no clerk is absolutely necessary, reducing that number to two now changes that equation. If staff reductions are truly necessary, organizations must ensure that employees’ day-to-day responsibilities are adequately documented and well understood by others in the organization before they leave.
Organizations need to identify essential employees through succession planning. What person can the organization not lose? It is imperative that they are active; They should try to anticipate any key personnel biases.
On the training front, organizations should strongly consider cross-training end-users across multiple functions. Two super users with sufficient skills and a global perspective may be able to do the work of three or four limited end-users, especially if they are proficient in different automation methods. For example, consider Mary, an end-user who is very proficient in Microsoft Excel. His organization has a Crystal Reports license, but no one really uses it. Sending him into orbit would allow the organization to finally realize the benefits of the crystal; No more manually piecing together reports.
Considerations for existing systems
Organizations have many choices regarding their current enterprise systems.
Maintain the status quo
Many organizations have postponed current system customization, enhancement, and upgrade initiatives. Projects that are cut or put on hold mid-stream almost always lose momentum, increasing total costs if and when restarted. Although this may save money in the short and mid-term, there may be long-term strategic implications of such a stoppage. A company may save money by canceling its business intelligence (BI) project but will not be able to mine its data for key business trends and drivers.
If the budget exists, organizations should use consultants to identify ways they can improve the currently deployed systems. They should focus on known applications and processes with significant room for improvement. For example, a recent client of mine manually entered time cards for bi-weekly pay for over five hundred employees every two weeks. The payroll manager asked me, “Should we buy and implement Kronos?” The time and cost did not justify it. Instead, I recommend using existing application automation tools and employee self-service. They will provide many benefits at a fraction of the cost.
Organizations can forgo annual vendor support, saving thousands in support fees in the process. Risks and considerations of this option include:
- This is easier if the organization is on a more mature version of the application.
- Organizations don’t have to worry about local taxes in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
- This requires a very knowledgeable end-user base.
- Organizations should create a contingency plan through an independent support party should a technical issue manifest itself.
Despite the benefits, squeezing is probably not worth the juice.
Renegotiate support agreements with vendors
Customers should talk to vendors about renegotiating support contracts—or at least terminating them. Senior management may be able to haggle support with vendors on existing contracts. Some vendors will commit to a more palatable annual support number if the customer agrees to purchase additional products or services in the medium or long term.
Vendors deprecate older versions of applications, in effect forcing customers to upgrade to “supported” versions. A vendor that has eighty percent of its customers on version 8 will not continue to support version 6 forever.
If end users have sufficient capacity, organizations may be able to use “add-on” technologies to eliminate unnecessary processing methods and increase efficiency. However, if current or planned staffing levels do not support the use of add-on technologies, organizations should postpone their purchase and implementation. It is best to undertake these projects when the end-users will have time to actually use them.
One benefit of increased IT investment stems from the tax code. The current stimulus bill includes increased Section 179 limits and additional depreciation for business capital expenditures. This includes software (source: irs.gov). Consult your tax department to see how these provisions may benefit your organization if purchasing software in 2009. Make sure your organization has enough resources to support any new initiatives.
Many factors drive the systems-related activities of every organization. In today’s economy, those activities are viewed under an increasingly powerful microscope. The options discussed in this article should help senior management make the right system-related choices.
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