Business challenges cannot be answered by technology alone

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New technology that could transform businesses' performance and profitability, such as new ERP and financial reporting systems, are a significant investment for businesses and not something they do every day, so it goes without saying that the investment needs to deliver good value and help to drive positive change in return. 

All too often, however, we see businesses point the finger at ‘outdated' or ‘underperforming' software or legacy systems as the main factor holding their digital transformation back. To remove this ‘roadblock', many go down the route of bringing new technology into the business, hoping that it alone will answer their challenges and drive significant advances. It's this mindset that often causes organisations to end up with ill-advised investments that do not deliver the desired improvements. Without a rethink of their use of new technology for transformation, it can be a problematic and costly cycle. 

In contrast, the right technology deployed at the right time for the right reasons can be incredibly powerful. But the trap that many businesses fall into is putting the onus on the technology alone to drive improvements, rather than conducting the necessary analysis to identify gaps in the business performance and ways in which core business processes could be improved and automated.  Any business might agree with the principle that such analysis and improvement will deliver more complete information for decision-making, but such work can be more challenging to execute amid daily business operations and in changing market conditions.

FHL Cloud Solutions recently commissioned research of 250 decision makers from British mid-range firms (those with 50 to 499 employees) which reinforced our observations. When respondents were asked to what extent they considered improving their organisation's core business and financial processes before they last invested in a new ERP system, less than half (48%) said they had made any serious effort on this process improvement task. 34% said they had to a modest degree, and 11% said this had only been a slight consideration. 

The research also suggests that many of these businesses don't have the necessary information they need to support their decision making; half of the survey respondents said they don't currently have access to the operational and financial performance metrics they want to help them more accurately assess business performance and make better decisions going forward. This lack in timely and accurate information from their current systems impacts their ability to gain business insights and a comprehensive understanding of their current business processes and operations performance; all of which are vital for businesses to make considered and well-informed decisions on new technology investments.  

Could it be that business owners are too tentative in investigating improvements to core processes? Or are they perhaps too trusting of technology vendors' promises that technology platforms will ‘transform' their business planning, procurement, financial reporting and decision-making - without committing to challenge and review existing processes and the existing technologies that underlie them. From our experience, we find that many businesses don't complete this evaluation process, or in some cases, even simple process mapping that is needed, because of time and resource shortages in their organisation. This incomplete preparation often leads businesses to deploy technology as a ‘quick fix' and then try and fit it to existing, outdated and often flawed, business processes. This attempt to reduce outlay on the technology and its implementation is usually ineffective and can mean wasting more time and money in the long run as the organisation struggles to deliver meaningful and lasting change. 

Implementing an ERP system across a business requires careful internal change management. Adopting a mindset to challenge current ways of working and a focus on change management is, in our experience, key to successfully leverage the new technology, and to deliver the best ROI and value to the business. 

This transformation and process improvement focus should become an ongoing process whereby business-owners and their senior management teams constantly challenge the organisation's capabilities and continue to improve them over time. This path to improvement should not be perceived as onerous – rather as a way to ensure your technology is constantly performing optimally and working as hard as it can for your business. But it's only with this good process understanding, a willingness to challenge current processes and ways of working, and a focus on business change, that you will unlock the full potential of your new technology investments.