RSR Research: Software Selection – The Last IT Frontier?
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, Retail Systems Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers.
It has been a decade since my last CIO assignment, but when RSR partner Brian Kilcourse and I got to talking with one of our vendor clients about software sales processes, it brought back a lot of memories.
Selecting new software applications was never a pretty process. You could be guaranteed that in the first 120 days after implementation of whatever you selected, most every conversation with system users would start with these four words: "In the old system" — followed by a complaint about something we’d left out.
Even in a period when the consumerization of IT is transforming the retail landscape, the issues CIOs face are frighteningly similar to the ones we left behind, with a few twists:
- CIOs often don’t own the budget anymore: many have reported that capital budgets for new systems now live with the Line of Business (LOB) executive. This can make the CIO more a deal-killer than a deal-maker. In other words, the LOB exec may like a particular app, but the CIO can say, "Well, this app will cause me endless integration headaches and an extra [insert the currency of your choice here] to complete." Down goes the deal.
- We have heard anecdotal stories of "procurement types" as gatekeepers. It was bad enough when retailers started using "procurement types" to source merchandise, but to select technology? Seriously? Are any of you really doing this? And, if so, how do you make it work?
- The NRF ARTS committee has created a set of industry-standard RFPs (request for proposals). I have mixed feelings on this one. On the one hand, it’s useful to start from some kind of template when creating an RFP/RFI. On the other hand, one challenge with RFPs is "you don’t know what you don’t know." It doesn’t generate enthusiasm among the users. In fact, it’s painful for everyone involved, from the user to the vendor. Plus, there’s no real way to be sure the thousands of questions in an RFP are answered accurately.
As far as we can tell, one method of system selection remains pretty much intact: a company can hire a company to do the selection for it. This usually involves a lot of interviews, a lot of paperwork (see RFP above), and a lot of money. It’s thorough, but again, the forest may well be lost in the trees.
So now that I’ve basically dissed almost all alternatives, you’re probably asking, "Well, what would you do?" Partner Nikki Baird is really bullish on conference room pilots. Brian and I prefer old-fashioned requirements definition documents (forget yes or no answers, give me words) followed by a conference room pilot. We all like the idea of getting references from similar companies.
Here’s the problem: we can get mobile sites up and running, create a presence on social networks, and brute our way to cross-channel fulfillment, but we are still stuck in the selection model of the 90’s. It seems that software selection is the last frontier of retail IT. It seems more an art form than a science.
Discussion Questions: What’s the best way to improve the selection process around software and IT technologies? What do you see as the new hurdles as well as the more traditional ones?