Getting more life out of your old back office systems

Ah, the good ole days

In the early 2000’s (or before), there was a mad rush for organizations to upgrade their back office systems to specialized packages and ERPs.  Like cows to a dinner bell, polished sales teams and papered up consultants flocked by the thousands to offer promises of innovation and modernization. 

This was of course, as many found out years later, mostly smoke and mirrors and the system you actually got, bared little resemblance to the “demo” you saw during vendor selection. Nevertheless, many of these early organizations were running off of a big chief tablet and a #2 pencil, so despite the overselling and over-inflated ROI projections, the system did provide benefit and often a catalyst to adopt much needed processes.

Those changes did not come easy though and and many CFO’s and CEO’s are still scarred by those first couple years. What’s worse, everyone in leadership assumed that their investments of time and money would surely last a while, or at least until they were long retired and it was someone else’s problem.

In most cases, they were very wrong and that reality started to hit about 10 years later.  But, scars are permanent and margins had to be met, so in an effort to push through, they promised to allocated budget next year to upgrading their systems.  Each year projects got pushed back for more important initiatives, each year expecting this to be the last…..that was 10 years ago.

I don’t blame them.  Upgrading an accounting or back office system is a pain-in-the-ass, causing constant disruption and filling your halls with teams of consultants who have nothing better to do but meet and draw flow charts on a white board.  Who has time for that and their day job?

The Cycle

It becomes a viscous cycle, keeping organizations stuck exhibiting the following symptoms over and over

  • Legacy system in desperate need of modernization or upgrading
  • 100’s of workarounds, spreadsheets, and manual processes devoted simply to masking over shortcomings in the current system
  • Overhead that is higher than competition, forcing your margins so low, investment in more critical areas (sales, operations, R&D) is being hampered.
  • Too many people working on mundane tasks, not enough people thinking strategically

Hey, that sounds familiar…

Sound familiar? Don’t worry, you are not alone and I’m not here to try to convince you to buy some new system that will do everything including make you a milkshake. Instead, why not get more out of your existing system now to create some easy wins and immediate ROI.

Here are some easier ways to upgrade your “system”, while not changing your “system” at all.

  1. Start with building a dashboard/portal that pulls information in from this old system and displays it in an organized, consolidate view for your management teams.  Often times, limitations of the accounting system can be solved with simple data visibility projects.  Data visualization such as Charts, KPI’s, and simple lists can do wonders to extend the life of an old system.
  2. Extend the dashboard by adding focused UI capabilities. Simple things like change forms, approval requests, and document routing are easy projects to start with.
  3. Build a small data mart – key word here is small.  No need to start with a 24 month data warehouse initiative.  For now,  simple create an easy process to move data nightly that simple reports and automated emails can be generated.
  4. Next up, build an integration layer (or API) that can be used to transfer data in/out and start connecting other systems and processes.  This starts to create a glue to hold everything together for future expansion.

The result, with a surprise twist!

At this point, what once was a stagnant, legacy system has been modernized with unlimited room for reporting and expansion.  This is not to say you are safe forever, but in many cases you can use this strategy to delay upgrading for a few more years.

Hidden benefit – By doing this, when the time comes to finally upgrade, your feature set is MUCH smaller, mostly b/c you have moved functionality out of the legacy system. Smaller features means cheaper, more specialized solutions and thus more likelihood of a successful ROI.

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