A consultant looks at a computer in the back of a warehouse while another takes inventory of mobile computers are stored
By Ash Sawhney | August 03, 2023

Wondering Why It’s Taking So Long to Get a New Software Application Online? Or Why It's Hard for Your Team to Define Minimum Viable Product (MVP)? Here's What I Know as an Insider.

You're asking your in-house team to manage the project as an ‘outsider.’ They don't work for the software provider. So, they only know how the application should work, not how to make it work as it should.

I bet you are constantly considering your organisation's ‘value proposition.’ You may not put it in such terms every time you think about how to stay ahead of the curve. But the reality is that you need to offer something your end user wants – something of value – and that ‘something’ is probably a moving target. So, you lean into anything you feel can optimise your processes and help make your team more efficient and agile – which means you invest heavily in software.

That makes sense.

Software is what makes everything from mobile devices and barcode scanners to machine vision systems and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) work. Without software, these technologies are just pieces of metal and plastic with potential. The software makes them do what they need to do so that your human workers can do their jobs effectively.

But here's the thing: just as devices require software to be effective, to be ‘smart,’ software needs people to help make its built-in intelligence impactful and, therefore, valuable. There are many ways people can help unlock software's full potential, but the one that I believe is undervalued is through expert consultancy.

What do I mean by that?

I suspect you leverage as many in-house resources as possible when building, configuring, and deploying software solutions because who better knows how the software needs to work than your own team? But knowing how something needs to work doesn't mean that your team has the know-how to get it to work that way. In fact, I've seen too many people fall for the ‘domain transfer trap’ (described in this blog post) in my time as a professional services consultant in the software space.

You could have your industry's most experienced IT team on the payroll. However, unless they've worked for the software developer at some point recently, they likely lack intimate knowledge of the software's baseline, plug-ins, features, configuration options, etc. That means that they won't necessarily know the software's full capabilities, much less how to leverage them.

So, suppose you want your software application to go live on time, on budget, and without a downgraded minimally viable product (MVP) criteria list. In that case, you need to tap into the knowledge and expertise of experienced consultants employed by the software provider. These consultants should be a mix of solution engineers you’re already working with on the project as well as Professional Services team members who know which levers you can pull to create the ideal user experience and arrive at desired outcomes.

This investment in what I call ‘expert implementation knowledge’ – or domain expertise – is necessary if you really want to improve your value proposition to employees (and future talent), partners, and customers. It's what will help you maximise the value of the technology you need to leverage to gain a competitive edge in a fast-paced, high-demand business landscape.

I'm sure you're wondering how specifically this ‘expert implementation knowledge’ will help and why you should be willing to pay for this ‘insider’ knowledge. So, let me give you six of my top reasons:

1. Well-Designed Solutions:

Your business has unique requirements, workflows, and challenges. That's why no two technology implementations are ever the same, especially from a software perspective. When you call in specialised experts to impart their implementation knowledge on a deployment, you'll pretty much be protecting your job. The experts from the software provider's consulting team will ask questions you may not even know to ask. They can also answer the questions your in-house teams are asking – and they'll answer based on real-world experience, not presumption or how something should theoretically be able to work.

They'll also give it to you straight when a decision introduces risk and make suggestions on how to improve technology acceptance as a true ‘solution.’ A well-designed and thought-through solution is fundamental to end-user adoption, as it is configured to work within users' real-world workflows and with the flexibility to support those exceptional situations in which front-line workers require some tech-supported problem-solving. Professionals with an in-depth understanding of the software platform can provide valuable insights and advice on different features, help you optimise workflows, and recommend ways to streamline processes based on its functional capabilities at the MVP phase – not months or years later. In addition, this level of detailed design leverages not only the most common product's functionality but also what I call the ‘hidden features’ to ensure the designed solution aligns perfectly with your goals and objectives.

2.  Maximising Product Features' Utilisation:

Both hardware and software products often come with many features and capabilities that you and your team may need help to comprehend or utilise. Experts with targeted implementation knowledge can work with your team to help ensure all the relevant features are effectively utilised, enabling you to extract maximum value from your total solution investment (and keep your employees happy). These professionals possess deep insights into each product's functionalities, so they can guide you on how to leverage them to solve complex challenges, automate processes, and uncover hidden opportunities for other types of efficiencies.

For example, in one of the Workforce Management (WFM) implementations I was involved with recently here at Zebra, an experienced Functional Consultant was aware of a product feature to display custom values on the key performance indicator (KPI) banner, thus avoiding the need for custom report development by the customer (who was a retailer). Suggesting this product feature also enhanced the experience for end users – retail store managers – by displaying all the key metrics in one place.

3.  Seamless Integration:

Tapping into a third-party expert's implementation knowledge also helps ensure seamless product integration of the software into your other systems and processes. Remember, your team may be IT experts or industry experts. However, the knowledge the software provider's consultants have is a cumulation of their technical know-how, industry-specific expertise and time working for the software provider on the specific software platform at hand.

So, while your team may have acquired key types of knowledge through years of experience and industry insights specific to your business, your in-house experts are ‘outsiders’ when it comes to a deep understanding of the product's capabilities. You really need that product insider knowledge to enjoy a smoother transition to this new system and eliminate potential disruptions that may arise during the implementation phase. (The last thing you need is costly setbacks and excessive downtime among end users, whether they’re front-line workers, merchandisers, auditors or planners.)

I have first-hand seen the value for the customers who have seamlessly integrated their other solutions with Reflexis Real-Time Task Manager and how positively the end users received the solution. However, they may not have realised that expanded value or even thought to integrate the task management solution with the other solutions to create a single mobile-first user experience without our team’s advice and support.

4.  Accelerated Time-to-Value:

Paying for experts' implementation knowledge significantly reduces the learning curve you and your team will experience and enables you to harness the product's full potential quickly. Rather than spending valuable time and resources on trial-and-error approaches, you'll benefit from the expertise of professionals who can efficiently guide you through the implementation process and share industry best practices, allowing you to make informed design decisions.

Something else to remember: by accelerating the time-to-value for your software applications (or any technology implementation), you'll gain a competitive advantage through increased productivity and greater business intelligence flowing to front-line workers and back-office teams, informing their decisions and actions. You can achieve your desired outcomes much faster once you react more quickly to macroeconomic trends, daily customer demands and employee requests. After all, time is of the essence in today's fast-paced business environment, and who would not want faster implementations?

5.  Continuous Improvement and Optimisation:

Incorporating domain experts' implementation knowledge offers more than just initial implementation assistance. Professionals from the software provider's team can provide ongoing consulting support, training, and optimisation services, ensuring that you continuously extract value from the product long-term and maximise your return on investment, as I explained in more detail in my last blog post.

As the business landscape changes rapidly, this ongoing consulting support is going to need to include configuration refinements, new requirement analysis and regular proactive deep dive sessions to address emerging requirements and issues and optimise the product's performance. By having ‘insider’ experts on call, you can move faster to make changes to the software's functionality. This will enable you to stay ahead of evolving business needs, adapt to industry changes, and fully capitalise on the product's capabilities (making employees more likely to deem the product/solution ‘helpful’).

6.  Real-World Insights:

Expert functional consultants and implementation specialists have experience in delivering multiple complex projects, and likely, they have learned from both successes and challenges of these projects. I'm not saying your in-house team doesn't have this experience. It's just that the software provider's team will have even more first-hand practical experience because they've worked on multiple deployments of this specific product – not just yours. They can provide valuable insights into what works and doesn't in a specific context. These insights can be highly beneficial as they’ll help you avoid common mistakes and optimise implementation processes based on first-hand experience of true real-world scenarios.

Case in point: I remember submitting an options paper on the advantages of choosing flexible 'Main Bank Scheduling' vs very granular 'Priority Lane-based Scheduling' for one of the big retailers in the UK. Unfortunately, the customer decided to implement the 'Priority Lane-based Scheduling' and only later implemented flexible 'Main Bank Scheduling' due to the learning from the pilot. If the customer had chosen my recommendation, we could have avoided a common mistake and implemented a better solution based on first-hand implementation experience of true real-world scenarios.

The Takeaway

In a competitive business landscape, where every advantage counts, you must consider the value of an expert's implementation knowledge as an essential investment. By embracing the professional expertise of your technology provider's consulting team, you can:

  • develop a well-designed solution to suit your unique requirements,
  • maximise the utilisation of product features,
  • seamlessly integrate the product,
  • accelerate time-to-value, and
  • receive ongoing technical support.

These advantages enhance the overall value proposition, empowering you to achieve your goals and drive business growth. So, if you're going to lean into technology to help gain a competitive advantage, make sure you're not putting yourself at a disadvantage by trying to save some money upfront. It would be best if you unlocked the product's full potential, which means strategically investing in ‘expert implementation knowledge’ – a decision that I've personally seen pay dividends in the long run for organisations that heed this advice.


Related Reads:

Best Practices, Energy and Utilities, Healthcare, Manufacturing, Warehouse and Distribution, Transportation and Logistics, Retail, Field Operations, Hospitality, Public Sector, Banking,
Ashish Sawhney
Ashish Sawhney

Ashish Sawhney is currently the Director of Global Professional Services at Zebra, where he is responsible for leading the global team of Functional Consultants, Implementation Specialists, Project Managers, Program Managers and AAR Cognos Developers. He has more than 12 years of experience within the retail and software industries, and his team has successfully implemented software for many of the world's biggest retailers.

Previously, he served as a Technical Consultant at JDA, as well as a Functional Consultant and Head of Delivery at Reflexis Systems and Zebra Technologies, where he managed the technical solution design, functional solution design and overall implementation delivery. Ash holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in IT from Coventry University and Bachelor's in Computer Application (BCA) from Jammu University.

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