Changing How We Look at the Risks of Selecting and Implementing Software

We were briefed a few months ago by BabbleWare, a new entrant to the Supply Chain Execution (SCE) market. BabbleWare sells warehouse management, manufacturing execution, and mobile execution applications. It offers both software-as-a-service (SaaS) and license pricing. BabbleWare’s solution integrates to paper-based systems (as well as systems that generate telnet/terminal emulation, XML transactions, and even Excel spreadsheets), pulls the data needed to create mobile scanning applications with the appropriate process logic, then puts the data back into the legacy system in the required format. The solution also generates other data the legacy database is not designed to handle, so it stores this data in a separate BabbleWare database. 

I saw a demo of the solution and it is very flexible. This loosely-coupled solution creates multiple small tables that can link to each other, instead of one massive table to power the application. This architecture allows a BabbleWare implementer to go into a warehouse that wants to streamline its processes and work with just one employee to trial the application, while everyone else continues to work with paper. This allows for an iterative implementation process where the implementer can get feedback, change the application, trial the new process with a few more users, get their feedback, and again make changes before introducing the solution to the entire warehouse staff. The solution also offers very quick implementation cycles.

This is a difficult solution to describe, but there are two key points.  First, this is a low cost solution. Second, there is less risk around an implementation because if there is a problem, it only affects one warehouse employee initially. 

More recently, we were briefed by Synergy Logistics, a 30 year old, privately-owned warehouse management system (WMS) company headquartered in the UK. The company stopped selling its client/server WMS solution in 2008 and began selling a single-instance, multitenant SaaS solution called SnapFulfil. Synergy opened an office in the U.S. earlier this year with the goal of selling this solution in North America. Implementation, RF hardware, and training are all part of the monthly fee (there is a one year minimum contract). The company offers redundant Internet connections via data centers in London and Boston. Unlike other WMS SaaS solutions, this is not an extremely low cost solution, but it is economically priced. 

Synergy’s Vice President for North American Operations made the argument that the way we look at the risks of picking and implementing software needs to change. If you have a low cost solution that can be implemented quickly, why would you spend a year laboriously picking the software? Those are wasted months during which you could have been garnering value from the solution.

The implementation argument works even better for a BabbleWare-style solution. With high-end software, you can spend months implementing the software. Much of that time is spent carefully documenting the “as is” and the “to be” processes. Then there is extensive testing, followed by a cut over process where everyone holds their breath and hopes for a relatively painless start up. The incremental implementation process of BabbleWare’s solution described earlier is designed to alleviate the need for highly rigorous and lengthy project management cycles.

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