Choosing a business and financial management system is a complex decision that demands more than ticking the boxes on a standard checklist. Before you embark on your journey, it’s vital to have a clear rationale for choosing to invest in a new system. That means knowing what you expect the project to deliver strategically and operationally for your business.
Section 1: Basic principles
Priority 1: Define the strategy and scope
It may sound obvious, but many organisations dive into a systems replacement project without truly understanding what they want to achieve. There are usually issues and frustrations with the current systems (or lack of them). But often, for the new system, there are no clearly defined requirements from which success factors and return on investment can be calculated.
Working out what you need as an organisation, both now and longer term, with input from key users, is vital to choosing the right solution, completing a successful project and ensuring your users are actively engaged and can reap the benefits of the new system.
Priority 2: Develop a business plan
Your plan should demonstrate and quantify the business benefits, clearly articulating to each stakeholder how the new system will improve performance. This will help you secure the vital internal buy-in needed to ensure successful adoption of the solution throughout the user base.
You need to agree a clear set of defined outcomes and desired results:
- How will you measure project success? Examples could be: greater user productivity, quicker response times to clients or lower late payment fees to suppliers as your processing times are reduced.
- Critical dependencies: what are the things that need to change to ensure you get the most from your business and finance management system? Common examples are existing processes or willingness to embraces change and new technology.
- How will you continuously improve and evolve the system to keep pace with business change? Any chosen system should be flexible enough to provide not just for the here and now, but also for years to come – in line with your organisation’s aims and objectives.
Before you think about investment and selection, you need to look to your processes. Your business management system will streamline, operate and automate critical business processes in finance, operations and sales. It will integrate core data and provide a single source of truth for your business, generating reports and insight allowing you to make informed decisions that shape business strategy.
It’s vital that your underlying processes are well-designed and effective from end-to-end. If processes are flawed and disconnected, a business management system won’t fix them. It will expose their shortcomings further, requiring time-consuming workarounds and eroding trust in outputs.
Conduct a process review and analysis, making sure that all your key business processes are defined, documented and validated. This activity will have another important impact: it will reinforce that this is a long-term, company-wide initiative, with an impact on data and responsibilities across many functions. It’s not just a technology project for IT stakeholders. Department or functional leaders, particularly those at the very top of your organisation, should be the stakeholders and sponsors. This is a key success factor for any business management system project.
Only when you have prepared the ground in these three key areas should you move on to consider the fundamental question of how to choose the right system.
Section 2: Choosing your business management system
For every kind of business, commercial and operations management processes and reporting are essential for ongoing success. A systematic approach means you can make sure your core operations and commercial policies are fit for purpose and that you have a clear view of financial performance at all times.
A robust system with optimal capability will:
- Increase financial visibility in real-time and for forecasting
- Ensure compliance and transparency in recording and reporting
- Optimise supply chain, giving you an end-to-end view of profitability from operations to warehousing
- Boost sales and service when integrated with your customer management system
- Deliver projects on time and on budget with clear metrics and ROI
- Provide one version of the truth in a unified commercial database
Business and market needs are continually evolving, so a good business management system will be flexible enough to tackle new demands, incorporate new processes and create additional efficiency gains.
There are many options on the market: it can be hard to know which one is right for your unique business needs. In our opinion, finding the best match is all about asking the right questions as you consider your priorities and evaluate systems and suppliers.
Here are the nine questions we think are most important.
1. What’s the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership)?
Traditionally, finance and business management systems were pure financial systems of record. As well as being an accurate financial performance measurement tool, it can give invaluable insight to enable informed strategic and operational decisions. Your system doesn’t just keep up with fiscal reporting, it provides actionable information that will improve efficiency and profitability across your organisation.
A significant benefit is compliance. From financial reporting regulations to operational audit trails and data security, a market-leading system ensures that your business processes conform to internal and external standards, minimising the risk of data breaches or investigations which could cost dearly in recovery, penalties and in reputational damage.
Every business has different risks and commercial priorities. Make a list of the specific benefits you need from your system, from security and compliance to real-time reporting, end-to-end commercial visibility and integration. Be specific about how these will enhance operational effectiveness, reduce costs and mitigate risks in the functions and activities of your business. This gives you a context for the costs you’ll incur in implementing and deploying your new business management system.
2. How fast and easily can you deploy?
There’s no gain without pain, as the saying goes. It would be unrealistic to seek a solution that can be implemented with zero disruption. But there’s a vast disparity between business management systems when it comes to time and effort for deployment – and the associated cost of the interruption to business as usual.
One of the advantages of Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, Xpedition’s preferred business management solution, is that it’s relatively quick and easy to deploy. It has a wealth of core functionality, meeting and exceeding commercial and reporting requirements for most of the businesses we work with. It’s designed to be easy to customise and integrate, reducing the time needed to test and deploy.
An off the shelf solution with fully compatible niche add-ons can deliver the specialist functionality that your individual business needs, without costly bespoke development. Microsoft’s AppSource marketplace provides a wide range of pre-built functions and packages for unique business process and industry needs, all specifically designed for Business Central.
3. Is it scalable?
Let’s face it, the majority of businesses want to grow – so they need software that will grow with them. And even if growth isn’t your priority, no one wants to make another investment just a few years after their last. Think ahead. What’s the longer-term business strategy? Make sure the system you choose is flexible enough to cope with likely future expansion and changes within your business and the market, as well as meeting current needs.
- Can it be upgraded?
- Is it easily adaptable to different needs?
Your chosen business system should be capable in as many scenarios as possible: flexible and forward-thinking.
4. On-premises or cloud-based?
You can deploy a business management system on-premises (the database is installed on your server) or via the cloud (as a Software as a Service solution, where the data is stored online).
Today, the vast majority of our clients opt for a cloud-based solution. With this, you have the benefit of being able to manage and access your data anywhere you have an internet connection. It’s ideal if your team is dispersed in different locations. Cloud deployments are easy to scale up or down in harmony with business needs. You also benefit from automatic upgrades to the latest functionality.
There are a few specific circumstances that might still make on-premises a better option. This is a topic to discuss with your technology and infrastructure team, to understand the implications for your business.
5. How secure is it?
Security is a top priority for any system, including cloud-based options. No one wants their sensitive financial and operational data to come under threat: you could concede competitive advantage and lose the trust of business partners. Cyberattacks are a constant threat: make sure your solution provider has built in protective measures and that these are continually tested and updated.
6. Will it integrate with existing systems?
For a centralised business management system, integration is incredibly important. Your solution needs to work with email accounts, Office or G-Suite, CRM and business intelligence systems. It should be intrinsically collaborative, rather than requiring extra apps and development to bolt it on to crucial data or information sources, or demanding data exports into separate systems for some functions.
When connections are not seamless or integral, inaccuracies can creep in and staff are more likely to look for work-arounds. Make sure your chosen solution will work in harmony with the other systems your business relies on.
7. Is it mobile-friendly?
Today, mobile-first technology is a way of life. More people access tools, systems and insight online via mobile than desktop. Your business management system needs to reflect that. Enabling mobile access for executives and remote workers is likely to support a huge increase in efficiency and support universal adoption.
8. What’s the outlook for product development?
Software licences are expensive: we all want to see a return on our investment. Find out if your business management system provider is investing your licence fee into research and development. They should be aiming to consistently improve their product and service to you. If their product hasn’t changed in years, you’ll be missing out on features, functions and compliance that could enhance your business performance and efficiency.
9. Does it fit your budget?
As with any commercial investment, you need to define then work within your budget. System prices vary depending on the features you need and the number of users who will be licensed.
Be aware that the upfront project costs are not always the same as the final costs. Business management systems need to be maintained and upgraded. They may also incur annual license and user fees. For on-premise solutions (unlike cloud-based) make sure your total cost of ownership calculation includes the cost of hardware and IT support, patches, server licences, backups and disaster recovery plan.
Plan your future budget to take account of post-implementation costs including additional licences, user and technical support, updates and ongoing ad-hoc requirements which you may have as your organisation evolves and requirements change.
There are many business management systems on the market – each claiming a slew of advantages and superior features. The only way to narrow down your selection is to benchmark each against your specific business requirements and priorities.
If you would like help with clarifying whether you’re ready to embark on a business management systems project or with the solution selection process, contact a member of our expert team today. We’ll be delighted to answer any questions about Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central.