While the role of an Implementation Consultant sounds (and in fact is) very exciting, there are few things you must know before you dive head long into the shoes of an Implementation Consultant. It is obvious that knowledge of business analysis is critical to succeed at this role. However, this article is not about the art or techniques of how effective business analysis is performed. There are far too many guides, models, and other bodies of knowledge that cover these essential tools.
What then are the other things any Implementation Consultant should be aware of? The things you should pay heed to and have a strategy for comes from a finer understanding of the role of the Implementation Consultant itself.
The Role of the Implementation Consultant
Typically, the Implementation Consultant is hired by the product or solution provider; and while they may consult with the client or customer for the duration of the Implementation, they most probably will return to their employer to be staffed on some other engagement once the current implementation consultancy is done. In terms of long term association and who is responsible for job security, the employer has the upper hand.
As a consultant to the client however, the Implementation Consultant needs to build strong and lasting relationships with the client. The Implementation Consultant will be one of the major representatives to the relationship the client will have with the provider. The key to any strong relationship is trust. Essentially, the Implementation Consultant has to perform his/her role by staying true to the client’s interests, and thereby build a relationship built on proven good faith and trust.
While this may sound relatively easy, it can be very tricky, meeting both your employer’s and customer’s goals and meanwhile doing what’s right for the role itself. However, by bearing in mind these important keys to the trade, you will find yourself far better equipped to perform effectively, rather than if these situations catch you off-guard.
Handling Conflict – The Implementation Solution Roadmap
While managing conflict sounds easy, most conflicts arise when what the customer truly wants would involve extensive changes which they believe cost relatively nothing. In return, the provider would like to propose alternatives that might meet certain parts of the requirement but probably wouldn’t agree to do exactly what the client wants or has requested.
In liaising between the two, the conflict often lies in whether the Implementation consultant should be true to his/her employer, recommending what they would prefer, or honoring the trust based relationship they have established with their customer.
However, the best way to handle conflict is to study the requirement and determine what’s best for that particular implementation, irrespective of what the customer says they want, or what the provider says they can (or are willing to) offer. This involves understanding true business value and clarifying these concepts into measurable processes or results.
For example, while the client may want a user interface for entering batch data (multiple rows), the customer might provide an interface to accept data one record at a time. The true solution to the requirement might not in the end be either what is requested or offered! The Implementation consultant should investigate the source of the data, the volumetric data involved, the business process and goal, and offer a solution based on these aspects of the requirement. For example, it is very likely that the implementation consultant might suggest an EDI file upload, which would bring immense value in terms of reducing data entry effort, face to face time with the system and increase the ability to perform a key function more quickly and easily.
Configuration Vs Customization
In terms of their responsibilities, the Implementation Consultant is in charge of understanding the client’s requirements and suggesting how best these requirements can be met by the proposed product or solution. While every proposed product and solution will have gaps, over-architecting the means to address gaps can be the biggest pit an Implementation Consultant can fall into.
In such situations, the goal of the Implementation consultant should be to address all gaps via “configuration” rather than “customization”. Configuration level changes are made to settings that do not require the code to be rewritten and the executables to be rebuilt. Customization, on the other hand involves changes to the code which are custom built or specific to this implementation.
Confining most changes to the Configuration realm will allow quick and effective changes to the product or solution rather than long drawn out changes which will require time, effort and money! This strategy also allows the client to get the best out of a ready to ship product or solution where their time to market is minimized.
Industry is recognizing the importance of this principle and it has resulted in the popularity of the widely hailed “SaaS” or Software as a Service model. Most organizations follow the 80-20 rule where gaps which can be addressed by customization up to 20% of scope is acceptable, beyond which it’s not advisable and would tend to reduce the benefits you get from a proposed product or solution.
Changing the Business Processes
Every product and solution will have a logical process that runs through the lifeline of the product. When a customer purchases a product or solution, most want to have the product or solution changed to match their business processes. In fact, most customers will realize value by changing the way they do things to match the inherent process present in the proposed product or solution.
While I’m by no mean suggesting a major change to a business model or making an existing business process ineffective, quite a few business processes in use in an organization have evolved as a result of the demands of the current infrastructure. A typical example of such a process would be how a particular department processes dividend payouts which would involve steps such as recording the dividend announcement, the dates and the rates, isolating the qualifying payees, calculating the amounts, clearing payments, reconciling differences and finally processing payments. The order that an organization performs these steps could very well be a dictate of how their current solution processes this task.
Rather than carry these types of processes forward to the new implementation, however, it is absolutely essential for the Implementation Consultant to explain what business process the proposed solution expects and encourage and drive change within the customer’s organization to suit it. While regulatory processes, for example, will not be subject to change, certain other processes such as the one detailed above should be redesigned based on how the new solution works.
All said and done, the role of the Implementation consultant is tricky, complex and very influential. How well this role is played out can make all the difference between a successful implementation that is the canvas for a case study and one that turns out to be a disaster, retold for years to come about how things can go wrong.
Every Implementation Consultant has to play the base role of a Business Analyst over and above which they have to manage the direction of the implementation. Being aware of the 3 key aspects of implementations we’ve talked about will help guide your implementation down the right track, and ensure your customer gains the maximum benefit out of their investment in your solution.
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Remzil Kulkarni has over 15 years of experience in technology enabled business transformation focused on Insurance, Telecom and Finance. She has a Masters degree in Engineering Management from Southern Methodist University, Dallas TX and is President of the IIBA Pune Chapter. She is a certified Prince2TM Practitioner and a Fellow of LOMA ( FLMI ). She currently heads the Business Analysis Centre of Excellence at Mastek Ltd., where she has worked for the last 5 years.