Computer System Conversions - From the Chairman
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SECTION: From the Chairman

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Computer System Conversions

Written By: Walter Berry

Article Date: 12-01-2005
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

There may not be a really good way to do them, but there are really bad ways.

What kind of business system does your company use? Have you ever gone through a computer system conversion? Wow! If you have, that's an experience you won't soon forget.

Our company has been using an internally generated computer system since we first had a computer in about 1970. We have employed our own programmers to maintain and update system software. However, two years ago, we were facing more and more challenges in keeping our system "state of the art," so we decided to evaluate whether our system was still the right way to go and whether we should consider moving to a third party system.

Once the decision was made to look, we compiled a list of software vendors at the 2004 AED Annual Meeting by walking through CONDEX. We intentionally did not outsource this evaluation. We had eight vendors make presentations to an internal group we called the IT Task Force.

Members of the group included employees who represented the different types of businesses we are in (heavy, compact, and material handling equipment), as well as the different job functions we have (equipment sales, rental, parts and supplies, and service repair).

After initial half-day presentations, we narrowed our list down to three potential suppliers. We also created a "request for proposals" (RFP) whereby we attempted to document the required capabilities that we wanted in a system. As we put together our RFP, we felt we were not going into enough detail on everything we wanted a system to do.

In hindsight, we were right. After our short list of vendors made more-detailed presentations, our Task Force made two critical decisions. The first was that we could not afford to continue to do our software in-house, and the second was to pick a single preferred vendor. Our company management was surprised that both decisions were unanimous by the Task Force.

As challenging as those decisions were, they turned out to be the easy part. Implementing the change is where the work is really done.

It has been a year since we made our decision and started the conversion process. Initially we thought we could convert one of our divisions within six months. That turned out to be overly optimistic. We are now taking the approach that we will troubleshoot the new system before we convert, as opposed to after we convert.

To do that, we have taken our initial RFP and gone to a much deeper level. We have actually documented more than 500 different business transactions - what we call "scenarios." We are testing each of these scenarios in the new system to determine if we understand and are comfortable with the outcome. This step is taking us a long time, but we are confident it is the right thing to do.

I have come to the conclusion that any computer conversion will require you to go through this "scenario" process. You can do it at the outset, i.e., do an in-depth RFP and use that information to choose a software vendor. You can do it in the middle, like we are, to work out the bugs and better understand the new system.

Or, you can wait till you "go live" and test these scenarios with real transactions and real customers, right there in front of God and everyone.

Once we are satisfied all our scenarios will work, we will start training our first division and set a date for our first conversion. We have heard how challenging and difficult computer conversions can be. We now have a much better understanding of what that means. I am not sure there is a really good way to do this, but I am convinced there are some really bad ways to do it.

We are not through the process yet, but we are making good headway. Since we had never gone through a conversion before, we knew we had much to learn. If you are contemplating a computer change, we would be glad to share our experience. Please feel free to give me a call.

By the time the process is complete, I won't be writing these editorials any more - maybe I will write a book about the whole process!

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