Why Customer Centric Approach to Software Implementation is Invaluable
By Arnoud Kool
Many tech companies initiate their implementation engagements with a software-based focus. Although it may arguably be a more straightforward approach for many, this traditional method may not take into account what problems the customer is trying to solve with the software. With this old approach, the emphasis is on features as opposed to customer use cases. Ultimately, a software-based focus may not lead to the most value for customers.
Alternatively, a customer-centric implementation approach focuses on the Voice of the Customer (VoC), where understanding the customer’s needs, requirements and problems they are trying to face are central. This investigative methodology poses a great implementation difficulty, as the VoC implementation approach places the customer at the centre of the implementation as opposed to the software. For many software companies who feel comfortable leading with their software in the meeting, a VoC implementation approach may be an uncomfortable and unknown arena.
The Old Way of Implementing Software
Typically, a meeting is held at the beginning of an implementation, wherein the requirements are listed. A presentation will highlight all the features offered, and the project team is then asked which features are required and how they should be configured. The customer often has to choose how the software will fit into their organisation’s processes. With this approach, typically comments surface such as, ‘this does not work for us’ or ‘we need to have it differently.’
These sorts of conversations can lead to unnecessary customisations, primarily because the consultants do not know the customer’s business processes or problems they are trying to solve.
Implementation Based on Processes, Not Features
A more modern approach towards a solution design places the customer’s business processes at the centre. This is a fundamental shift in the way implementation projects are managed. In other words, the old software-centric implementation approach looks at 'how can we fit our software solution with their business' whereas the new way customer-centric looks at 'how can the customer's key business process improve by implementing our solution.'
To have meaningful conversations, we first need to understand where and how the features are working. It is essential as a consultant to capture and comprehend what these processes look like, including the intricacies.
As the Director of Business Consultancy at Accruent, I take pride in our Voice of the Customer implementation approach. We believe in a process where co-creation lives, and trust is established early. Communication is essential, and managing expectations is critical. Expertise is valued, old ways are constructively challenged, and goals are set to alleviate customer pains. In the following section, I will describe a VoC implementation with Meridian, Accruent’s Enterprise Asset Information solution.
Voice of the Customer in Action
A VoC approach to software implementation starts in the critical ‘Define’ phase. The phase begins with preparation for a discovery workshop — designed with the customer at the centre. The workshop serves as required input for the solution design specifications document, which is then used as the foundation for the ‘Build’ phase.
Before the discovery workshop, some prep work is required to ensure that it is productive. To do so, the implementation consultants and customer’s project team have a conference call where the objectives and the format of the workshop are shared.
In the call, the implementation consultants request a list of requirements, process flows and submit questions around their IT infrastructure. All the information gathered at this stage serves as valuable input to run the discovery workshop.
The discovery workshop is typically lead by experienced consultants with proven solution engineering track records. These consultants hold not only software solution knowledge but also in-depth industry expertise that customers can benefit from. This expertise allows them to speak the language of engineers working in various industries, such as Oil & Gas, Chemical, or Pharmaceutical. They can also share industry best practices where appropriate and case studies often lead directly to increased operational efficiency — translating to value creation.
The workshop is the first face-to-face engagement with the project team. Depending on the complexity, the workshop may require one or two days. Within these few days, the consultants will gain a better understanding of their business processes and system/configuration requirements. In doing so, customers often gain more in-depth insight into their operations.
With our industry-specific experience over the past decades, we are then able to recommend process modifications and improvements at a very early stage. Depending on other factors such as multiples sites and business units involved, the workshop scope can be tailored to incorporate the different views on how the process is currently or should be managed.
Of course, there are other phases in the implementation of software. However, placing the customer’s business process and system requirements at the core of the ‘Define’ phase resembles world-class software implementation practices.
Ultimately, the new way of implementing software is proven to improve user adoption and increase time to value. Successful implementation relies on users adopting the software as soon as possible, not after three or six months. Perhaps even more important is that the software solves problems, allowing users to do their job smarter and more efficient than before.
About the Author
Arnoud Kool has worked in the IT & Telecom Industries for more than 20 years, gaining experience working in international business management, product and solution management. As a seasoned Services Director for EMEA, he is passionate about customer centricity and managing general operations. In addition to leading global client transformation programs, he is also involved in coaching and mentoring consultants to adopt new innovative implementation methods and increase time to value of our solutions to clients. Outside of the office, Arnoud enjoys water-based sports, music and spending time with his family.