There's a certain type of freight forwarder who comes to me every year or two. We've discussed the challenges of their business before, usually more than once. They’re growing steadily (sometimes rapidly) but are struggling to keep up with increased demand. Their old systems are no longer being supported, or they’re using a complex patchwork of software packages, manual processes, and online services that are hard to learn and time-consuming to use. They see their competitors offering better services and using better systems, but are worried about the time, effort, cost, and disruption that a major conversion will cause. In the end, they decide to soldier on with what they've got.
When I see them again, a year or two later, they lament where they could have been today if they'd only made that switch when they last saw me. And the vicious cycle continues.
Major systems conversions can be difficult. But as I've seen time and time again, the alternative can be tougher. By the time your hand is being forced on a system conversion, it's probably already too late to salvage a customer who has gone to a competitor or to win that new client who had requirements that you couldn't fulfil.
So how do you avoid this fate? Having helped countless businesses convert their software systems, I've got plenty of tips for avoiding possible difficulties in the conversion process and creating a powerful opportunity for your company to build a sustainable base for future growth.
Lead from the Front
It all begins with a mixture of honest reflection and forward-thinking leadership. Start by asking yourself whether what you are currently doing is what is best for the company or simply what is easiest. Asking detailed, probing questions about your business is never easy, but it's essential. If you don't have good data on your operations today, you may never be able to measure exactly how much has changed after a transition. Some companies I’ve observed have volumes of job data to examine, while others might only measure staff turnover, sick leave, and the size of their inbox. Either approach is okay when leadership is clear-eyed about the growth opportunities that exist, as well as the challenges involved in getting where they want to be.
If you're bogged down in operations and struggling to see beyond the day-to-day, find ways to get a more critical perspective. Create space to attend workshops, forums, or conferences that can help you connect with others who’ve gone through similar journeys to you. Additionally, when you're hiring, look for people from other businesses or even adjacent industries who can provide a breath of fresh air and a vision of how things can be done differently.
Preparation is Key
Once you're clear on your goals, it's important to identify the challenges your business will face. If you think CargoWise One might be right for you, consider engaging a WiseService Partner who can provide an experienced outside view on what your business could achieve with a major conversion, as well as identifying potential roadblocks to realizing these goals.
With careful planning and the right implementation strategies, it's possible to help mitigate potential issues and see an earlier return on your investment.
Generating buy-in from users, administrators, and other managers is crucial to a successful roll-out. This may be one of the most important business decisions you make, so you should treat it as such. Assign ownership to the implementation and have your team truly live it.
When putting together a lead group, many companies I've worked with have found creative ways of motivating the people on the front lines to help create a positive atmosphere around the change. One company created special branded laptop bags and clothing to help identify the group in charge of the conversion and give them pride in their role. Another printed T-shirts that resembled band tour merchandise, listing dates and cities for a multi-stage, multi-location rollout. While these strategies might not suit your business culture, it's worth thinking outside the box to give the people who will be responsible for the success of the transition a strong sense of purpose and commensurate level of visibility within the organization.
A motivated team needs backing from management and the support to get the job done right. At WiseTech Global, we live by the mantra “slower today, faster forever”. Adopting this type of attitude could be the difference between a successful, short software conversion and a painful, drawn-out one. Give your administrators the time and space they need to configure the system comprehensively rather than asking all your operational users to just dive in and do it themselves. By lowering the barriers to entry, your frontline staff can get quick, easy wins and start to see the benefits of the system earlier, rather than spending hours battling with the new interface or trying to ignore the new system altogether.
Never Stop Improving
Overall, it's important to remember that you're on a journey. Software upgrades today are not just about buying a CD, installing a program, and hoping for the best. Integrated enterprise systems like CargoWise One are constantly releasing new technology developments and features to allow you to be more efficient, work smarter, and offer better service. Successful conversions don’t have to be limited to doing the same things on a new platform. You can strive to do more – and to do it better – with your new platform.
Like I said earlier, major software conversions are challenging, but displaying strong leadership, having a plan and empowering your team will help set you up for success. And when you start noticing your staff leaving on time, sick days going down, your inbox clearing up, and your file count increasing, you'll know you’ve made the right choice.
If you want to see some of these principles in action, see how Mid-America Overseas grappled with the challenges of conversion and emerged stronger than ever in our customer story.
Gene Gander is VP Business Development, Americas for WiseTech Global