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Don't Overpay By Overspecifying Your RequirementsDon't Overpay By Overspecifying Your Requirements

We are seeing an increase in the number of smaller organisations that are engaging the services of external consultants to assist when sourcing new finance software. This approach, given the wealth of information available with a simple mouse click or Google search, has become less common in the private sector but is an increasing trend within Not for Profit Governmental and Third Sectors.

Whilst most respected vendors can in effect be very good sources of (free) advice, an experienced independent consultant may be a good option to consider especially as they can deal with a lot of the time consuming research, vendor qualification and functionality assurance.  Done well you get what you want, with less disruption, and can start working with a new provider with confidence.

However we have noticed in the last couple of years that this approach can introduce avoidable complexity. We are seeing increasingly long wish lists of everything an organisation  could possibly ever want. This is (maybe inadvertently) adding to the costs and envisaged implementation timescales, sometimes resulting in an organisation choosing to do nothing and therefore missing out on the benefits of why they elected to change in the first place!!

For example one Charity we worked with recently, with a relatively small turnover of less than £3 million, used external consultants to help identify an initial selection of vendors, issue the RFI’s (Requests For Information), and then filtered through the RFI responses and draw up a shortlist of suppliers for demonstrations etc.

This particular RFI ran to nearly 700 questions, each of which came with a requirement to provide a detailed response as to how our solution met the brief of that question. The production of such documentation in itself had extended the decision making process.

In reality this particular RFI had complicated what was, in fact, a straightforward set of requirements. The simple fact was that they were seeking a more effective and efficient financial reporting solution, but the requirements were made overly complex by the extensive list specified, many of which shouldn’t even need to be asked. For example: “can the software hold supplier names and addresses?”. Bear in mind a detailed response to this question was requested as to ‘how’ and given that all finance software solutions do this as a matter of course, makes a nonsense of the need to ask.

In another example one RFI under the section titled ‘reporting’ listed over 50 different report types that were ‘must haves’ and yet, with the exception of around half a dozen that were really necessary (Balance Sheet, Income and Expenditure, Trial Balance SOFA etc.), most were the normal sort of everyday enquiries that could be run on demand without the need for a pre configured report. However as the question is asked and that these are ‘must haves’, we were required to allow time (and costs) for all of these custom reports to be created as part of the implementation process, which added several more days of potential costs to the project unnecessarily.

In such cases, if we follow the letter of requirements running across hundreds of questions, we end up with implementation projects running into 10’s of days and not the the half a dozen that it should be. Of course this will be the case with every other prospective supplier, so all that will happen is that the customer could ultimately end up paying well over the odds for their systems because their external consultant may have earned their fee by being what seems on the face of things to be very thorough, when in fact is time wasting for all parties.

Anecdotally, compared with organisations who run the process themselves, we have seen projects which have engaged an outsourced consultant for the selection process has added over six months to the program. 

Putting to one side the increased cost of sale (which inevitably gets passed on to the clients) we sometimes find ourselves required to “send 5 hard copies by registered post” as part of the bidding process. This is wasteful and expensive, and definitely not very ‘green’. In fact we now regularly agree with prospective clients that we will only send electronic copies of responses, citing our own green credentials and questioning the environment impact their request may have.

Whilst larger organisations may have more complex requirements and could benefit from having additional, independent assistance, we don’t believe smaller companies (and especially cash strapped charities and other not for profit organisations) need to add such expense, directly or indirectly.

So if you are a smaller organisation, especially in the Third Sector where every pound saved can be reinvested to add real value, talk directly to a handful of vendors about your new finance software. There really aren’t that many of us and we are all (generally) nice people!  They will happily discuss your requirements face to face and show you how our software works. Whilst we can’t talk for other providers, here at Aqilla we will provide a competitive bid based on your real needs and have the implementation underway in a few weeks with a go live only a month or two later. You save money, we save time (which means a financial saving we can pass on to you) and everyone ends up happy

Perhaps however with the possible exception of the external consultant who might need to find a way to provide value to your organisation in others ways.....

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