INTELLIGENT SYSTEMS

 

Volume IX, Number 1    May, 2002

 

A quarterly newsletter for clients and friends of Chenault Systems

 


Practical Consulting and Software Development

By Tom Chenault

Success with our clients does not come automatically.  As we have discussed in previous newsletter articles, the Chenault Systems philosophy of “High Impact Consulting”, based on the book by Robert H. Schaffer, is compared to conventional consulting as follows:

1.        Define business goals in terms of client objectives instead of consultant expertise or products, which makes Chenault Systems unique.

2.        Match product scope to what the client is truly ready to do instead of a subject to be studied.

3.        Use small prototype steps with quick successes instead of one big solution, which builds a strong relationship with the client.

4.        Utilize the client’s team instead of using a large number of consultants.

In prior speeches and our newsletters, we have covered points one (1), two (2) and four (4), but we have not fully covered three (3), which we will do now.  Stated succinctly, this means projects should be implemented in small steps, keeping the long-term goals in mind.  This concept poses many interesting aspects to development.

Design and analysis are key ingredients to a successful project; however, communication is a must.  With due care, we use proven software tools to develop our systems quicker than the more traditional firms using their labor intensive methods.  We do this with the prototype method, where models are developed by us and reviewed with the client on regular and ongoing basis.  This interaction between client and consultant allows the project to move in a positive direction because both sides understand all the changing issues in detail with a lot of teaching (and learning) taking place during the process.  If something is not quite right or takes longer than expected, then everybody knows why and the issue is resolved before it becomes a problem.  Misunderstandings are kept to a minimum.

The budget and schedule should reflect unanticipated changes; and decision makers must be accessible.  A plan showing how individuals and groups will coordinate with each other through formal and informal meetings is needed.  The budget and schedule should not only reflect this interaction, but also make allowances for unanticipated changes due to it.  When the unanticipated occurs, immediate communication must take place between appropriate parties, who must in turn understand that the budget and schedule may have to change.

The reason why most software projects fail usually either a lack of communication while trying to develop the one big solution all at once or not taking advantage of the latest proven software tools – emphasis on “proven”.  Prototyping tends to increase communication and at the same time point towards possible problems associated with the development tools in short order.

To this point we have been discussing custom built (open) software.  Another approach is to purchase off-the-shelf (closed) software.  In this case, the term “closed” is somewhat of a misnomer.  Some software is truly closed and not modifiable, while others are comprised of a standard template and are extensively modified for the customer.  The former often tend to be more of a straightjacket for the customer, forcing him to see things the manufacturer’s way, while the latter are often associated with high installation times and even higher installation costs as the software is reprogrammed to meet the customer’s needs.

We exclude truly closed software from this discussion, stating that potential candidates should be analyzed strictly on the basis of how well the software meets the user’s criteria, cost, and likely longevity of the manufacturer.  Personally, we use them; we like them.  The price for Microsoft Word is right and frankly it meets about 500% of our needs.  (We are not overly demanding users when it comes to word processors.)  With respect to “open” closed end of the software spectrum we have some startling observations over the years.

We have seen systems implementations delayed in anticipation of a corporate-wide solution with off-the-shelf Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems.  For example, we came across one company that postponed all other systems work until they had completely installed an ERP system costing millions of dollars.  We were told they “had no idea” when the ERP installation would be completed.  Apparently, the installation was already two years late and costing a fortune in consulting hours from a large, well known consulting firm trying to make the one big solution fit.  This was an all or nothing project.  Meanwhile, end-users of new, less expensive, custom-built applications – along with their potential productivity benefits – were on hold until further notice.

In this example, the well-known consulting firm was in conflict of all four points of our consulting philosophy.  They violated the first point since they were licensed representatives of the ERP software product.  Their business goal was the commissioned sale of the ERP product, including a large amount of consulting hours to implement it, instead of the clients’s goal.  They did not conform to the second point because the client was truly not ready for such a dramatic change.  In this case, the client was forced to conform to a software product, instead of the other way around.  We see this a lot.  The third point was not adhered to because they did not take small implementation steps.  They tried to do everything at once with the end result being a poor client relationship.  Finally, point four was ignored since the well-known firm used their own army of consultants instead of leveraging in-house personnel.  In other words, in our opinion, the firm did not meet the standards of true management consultants.

ERP systems can be good solutions, but should not be a magic potion for all information technology opportunities.  It is too easy for people to quit thinking because a so-called “corporate strategy” has been decided.  The cost is lost flexibility.  High-level decision-makers need the best information, regardless of what system it comes from.  Plus, a monopoly should rarely be granted to just one vendor or large consulting firm.

Over the years, we have seen many of our “short term solutions” become real business solutions, lasting five years and more, while waiting for the emplacement of some future corporate system.  This is because we often work with end-users who understand their needs, plus we try to put what is best for the client over what may be most profitable for us in the short term.

We feel it is better to accomplish long-term business goals with relatively short-term incremental changes than compromise current business objectives by waiting for some future product – the one big solution.  Several CIO’s have been replaced with bankruptcy lawyers in the latter case.

In our first newsletter in 1993 we wrote: "Tiny miracles can be accomplished by individuals or small groups if centralized management will just leave them alone."  We still believe that statement to be true and we stand by to help with these tiny miracles and promote good pragmatic solutions with high impact consulting.

Success at Hanley-Wood

We recently completed phase 1 of a custom-built system for tracking trade show attendees for Hanley-Wood, one of our valued clients.  The following is the body of a letter written by Galen Poss, President of the Exhibitions division of Hanley-Wood to Tom Chenault, President of Chenault Systems:

As a follow-up to the discussion during our recent lunch meeting, we wanted to write and formalize our appreciation for the outstanding job, which you, Wes and your team did in helping us take the Historical Attendee Database (HAD) system from a dream to an unbelievable reality.

The quality of your company’s work and the time frame within which the project was completed, both set new and extremely favorable benchmarks for the future.  A similar project at another company took five times longer to complete, and was many times more expensive.   Given past experience with other vendors, we were somewhat skeptical of both the timetable and cost when proposed by Shawn Pierce, our Director of Internet Products.  Needless to say we are pleased and happily surprised with the final system and overall project results.

The addition of the HAD system to the Hanley-Wood arsenal of process management tools, will allow us to better serve our customers and distinguish our company from its competitors.  We look forward to a continued and ever growing relationship with you and Chenault Systems.  It is rare in today’s business environment to find such an outstanding supplier partner.

Again, many thanks for the excellent work of you and your team.

For all of our success stories, press releases, and client testimonials please refer to www.chenaultsystems.com.

 

Quotes Worth Noting

“Getting ahead in a difficult profession requires avid faith in yourself.  That is why some people with mediocre talent, but with great inner drive, go much further than people with vastly superior talent.” – Sophia Loren

 

“What’s really happening is a seismic shift, from thinking of software as a product to think of software as a service.  Someday we will look back at the notion of someone selling software as a sort of quaint and old-fashioned idea.” – Greg Papadopoulos, Chief Technology Officer, Sun Microsystems

 

“When told you cannot see the ‘big picture,’ ask to see that big picture.” – Anonymous

 

“Man must be moved by high and ethical concepts in all of his relationships and must believe in the ultimate triumph of right.” – Arthur Andersen, 1941