Our Approach to Systems Consulting

We are committed to applying methods that are appropriate to each client's needs and requirements.
   
System Specifications:
Requests for Proposal (RFPs) or
Invitations to Tender (ITTs) (in the UK)
     
Companies planning to acquire third-party systems often make one of two mistakes:

(a) over-specifying their requirements (as if they were building a system from scratch) or
(b) underspecifying, i.e., not being specific enough about critical functions that the business requires.

By working with our clients to identify the truly significant operational and reporting features and functions that will optimize order processing, customer service, inventory management, fulfillment, and eCommerce functionality, we are able to produce "strategic" RFPs that focus on key features and functions in enough detail to determine which vendors best understand the challenges ahead and have the best chance of customizing their solution, as required, to meet them. We have developed a Comprehensive Client Questionnaire to help our clients through this process, in conjunction with our own intensive on-site requirements review and consultation.

We are also familiar with all the direct commerce order processing vendors and their systems (in the US and the UK), and keep our initial list of prospective vendors at a reasonable length (usually 6 -8) to facilitate system evaluations.

Finally, we can assist in helping to negotiate a fair and equitable contract, which gives the vendor a fair fee for services rendered without unreasonably encumbering our client for charges that the vendor ought to bear.
   
System Implementation
     
The process of system implementation is often the "make-or-break" phase in the systems life cycle. Prior to actual implementation, we sit down with the vendor and our client to:

  • review in detail what the vendor is promising to deliver
  • negotiate the timeframe that must be met
  • develop a formal project plan (with milestones for deliverables)
  • review the approach the vendor will take to satisfy those expectations

We then monitor the vendor's progress in following the Project Plan and intervene for "mid-course corrections" as required.

These activities are undertaken in conjunction with helping our clients through the four major phases of the systems implementation process :

  • Validation
  • Verification
  • Walk-Through
  • Training

Validation

The Validation phase consists of the following steps:

  • Data Conversion, to convert legacy files and databases for use in the new system (often a labor-intensive process requiring manual review of converted data sets)
  • Test Data Creation, to help the vendor's analysts and programmers meet modifications and customization specifications
  • Functional Testing: to make sure that modifications and customization have been achieved as planned
  • Documentation Review: is the entire system documented, including the customized features and functions

Verification

The Verification Phase consists of the following steps:

  • Data Integrity Checking
  • Regression Testing: does the system integrate as it should with other systems?
  • Audit Trail Testing
  • Stress Testing (benchmarking)
  • Disaster Testing: how does the system recover from a complete failure?
  • Documentation: we know it's all there, but is it accurate?

Walk-Through

The Walk-Through Phase consists of the following steps:

  • Orientation and training of Walk-Through testers
  • Creation of system-testing "scenarios"
  • Live activity testing on a test system
  • Evaluation of system performance

Training

While training is the obligation of the third-party vendor, we can help to assure that the vendor has an appropriate training strategy, that it is executed to best advantage, and that users are sufficiently empowered and prepared before the system "goes live." We can also assess when refresher training is advisable, and we can help to create an in-house training staff to train new and temporary employees.
   
Managing The Process of Change
     
We believe that systems fail for the following reasons:

  • Poorly defined objectives
  • No enterprise consensus
  • No Enterprise Systems Plan
  • Unrealistic timeframe
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Function "creep" (failure to freeze the project before implementation)
  • Failure to manage the process of change

In some ways, it's as simple as the old cliche: "plan the work, then work the plan." But the planning process must include all key players in the organization. We are committed to assuring that this happens not only on the front-end, in defining systems requirements, but throughout the systems implementation process as well. It is imperative that users "buy in" to the new system and develop a sense of "ownership." If necessary, we can assist in the creation and management of a formal "Change Team."

We are also aware of the dangers of failing to develop a positive and constructive relationship with the third-party systems vendor. Ultimately, the user/vendor relationship will be a significant part of managing a successful system, and we work with our clients and the client's vendor to make sure that a productive relationship develops.




Be sure to check out
Ernie Schell's Blog:
Direct Commerce Systems & Services
   
Click here for information on
Planning Your System Project
and
Choosing & Using Direct Commerce Order Management Software




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From a client:

Our system selection process went very smoothly and very quickly with your assistance. We NEVER could have done it this quickly and this well without your help. Thank you, Ernie!!

David Miller, World Pantry


Had trouble coping with
your holiday "peak" order
volume? Read THIS!
Ernie Schell 
Director 
ernie@schell.com 
From a software vendor:

One of the people who helped me with the response to the RFP you sent us made this comment: "This is the best RFP I have ever had to respond to."  The person that said that measures their experience in decades. When I asked "why" they said: "It flows, there's no redundancy in requests, it's easily understood, it obviously took some time, it's well- thought-out, it leaves little to question."