News & Views

News & Views is published monthly by 180 Systems. Our objective is to provide recent articles to our readers on business technology topics. In some cases, our blog contains a title with a hyperlink to a source article, a quote from the article and our comments. In other cases, we have provided a blog without a hyperlink for original content by 180 Systems. We encourage you to post your own comments. You can also access our blog by topic.

Cloud security: fact or fiction?

Cloud Computing

June 1, 2016 from CPA Magazine – “As our cloud survey article showed, data is moving to the clouds at high speeds across all kinds of organizations. But is the data safer than it was when these organizations kept it locked away on their own premises…”


Reduce Risk of ERP Implementation Failure: Pre-Contract Business Needs Analysis

Contract Negotiations, ERP, Software Selection

You naturally want to minimize risks and avoid cost overruns before signing a long-term contract for a new ERP system. Your prospective vendor also wants to minimize risk, but is usually not in a position to do anything other than give an implementation estimate based on lots of assumptions about scope, roles and responsibilities. These assumptions could be fairly accurate, but could also be way off, which could lead to surprises and costly change orders during the implementation.  Neither you nor the vendor want this to happen.  Wrong assumptions that lead to change orders will create frustration, friction and could lead to you being an unhappy, non-referenceable client, or even worse, one who wants to abandon the project.

Everyone would prefer to avoid this.  So we encourage you to consider a pre-contract Business Needs Analysis (“BNA”).   A BNA provides the vendor with more detailed information about your environment that it can use to firm up its understanding and provide a fixed fee for the implementation. In the absence of a BNA, this work would normally be done by the vendor during the implementation, after the contract is signed.

The more analysis done in the BNA, the lower the risk. 180 Systems’ approach to the BNA is to identify the requirements that are the most challenging and/or unique and make sure they are clearly understood by the vendors so they can figure out how to handle them in detail before the contract is finalized. Although the vendors charge for their time to complete the BNA process, it is time they would be charging during the implementation anyway, and by doing the work upfront, the risky parts of the implementation can be built into the implementation contract and therefore reduce the likelihood of surprises.

A BNA should include

  • Implementation scope linked to requirements in the RFP
  • Conceptual design with agreed upon design decisions
  • Functional specifications for any requirement requiring customization
  • Statement of Work

The vendors may resist as they would rather just close the deal or are reluctant to assign resources to a client that may not sign a long-term contract. But if the risks are high, both the vendor and the client are protected using the BNA approach.


Prophix Interview

Business Intelligence, CPM

I recently spoke with Andy Amalfitano CPA, CA, Director of Sales Central Region for Prophix about changes at Prophix and his perception of the cloud. Prophix ( is one of the leading solutions for Corporate Performance Management (CPM). Prophix includes:

  • Budgeting, analysis and forecasting
  • Financial, statutory and management reporting
  • Financial consolidation
  • Profitability modeling & optimization, cash flow and revenue planning
  • Operational and strategic planning

Prophix targets organizations with revenues between $50M and $2B who want to evolve from being dependent on Excel for their key financial processes. Prophix recently announced the latest version of its CPM solution, one that will provide their customers with more choice in terms of how they implement the software. Some users will want to continue to have part or all of their financial processes on premise, while others will find it advantageous to move to the cloud. Andy pointed out that one reason customers choose an on premise solution is so that they will be able to drill down to transactional detail. Andy also noted that customers are becoming more comfortable with security in the cloud but they will have the option of an on premise solution or a blended approach, where the most sensitive data is stored locally.   


The next big thing?


180 View – We live in amazing times and in the years ahead will use technology we know nothing about now but will depend on and enjoy then. I have seen so much change in technology since my first job working on an IBM mainframe with green screens and now my cellphone is way more powerful than these mainframes that were expensive and filled a room.

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Statement of Work (SOW) Stoppers

Contract Negotiations, ERP, Software Selection

The SOW is a key document from your vendor that can make or break the implementation. The vendors will do their best to reduce their risk by limiting scope to a high level list, assuming that you will follow best practices, and making a lot of other assumptions about you doing work that you don’t know or understand the effort to complete. 

As the vendor risks go down, the customer risks go up.  We recommend the following:

  • Scope is tied to the requirements in the RFP which need to be specific
  • Best practices should only be applied to processes that are considered basic.  It should not be tied to ones that allow a company to differentiate themselves from the competition or address critical success factors (what an organization must do well in order to be successful strategically). You should limit the best practices to a few basic processes such as accounts receivable and accounts payable.
  • Ensure you understand what is involved in your roles and responsibilities. Many organizations don’t have the experience or qualifications to do some of the tasks that may be assigned to them without a lot of help from the vendors. An example of this is developing to-be business process documentation.  If you don’t have a resource on your team with the skill set to do this, you may be setting yourself up for a vendor change order.

A good way to limit scope for both the vendor and the customer is by arranging a “paid-for” business needs analysis (BNA) or discovery process prior to signing any long-term contracts. This should not delay the implementation process as it is work that would need to be done anyway. It should also not be a full-blown design phase by the vendors. It should be enough work for the vendors to define scope clearly and provide a fixed or not-to-exceed fee to do the implementation. It will also involve deciding what to do with all the requirements that are not met out-of-the-box by the vendors which include customization or custom reports, 3rd party modules, changing the process and workarounds.

The vendors would rather close the deal without doing the discovery if possible but we think this is short-sighted. In the end, the vendors don’t want unhappy customers and taking this extra step will help reduce the risks of unexpected and costly surprises during the implementation.


What the cloud really is

Cloud Computing

December 1, 2015 from CPA Magazine – “…Below you’ll find a short primer on the cloud and how to decide if the technology is right for your business needs. We’ve also designed a short survey to see how many of you are using the cloud in business – and if so, how…”

180 View – I (Michael Burns) wrote this article with a lot of help from Margaret Craig-Bourdin who is the editor of the online edition of CPA Magazine. The first version of the article was considered by Margaret to be way too technical for the readers of CPA Magazine and she worked hard to simplify the article for CPAs. Hopefully it’s not too simplified for the readers of our newsletter.

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So the project has gone belly-up, what now?

ERP, Project Management

December 3, 2015 from LinkedIn – “…Most SMEs and many larger companies are not experienced in running projects. It is just not something they need to do on a regular basis and certainly not with this much at stake.  An investment in the services of a skilled internal Project Manager is rarely a waste of money. It will often cost you more to skimp in this area and then have to recover afterwards…”

180 View – The author, a business development manager for Pronto Software, makes a number of really good comments on why implementation projects fail and what to do about it. I have acted as an ERP expert witness and have seen just how bad things can get. It is far better to find a solution to the problems than to fight it out in court.


Something Different


Hidden Miracles of the Natural World

180 View – Unfortunately we also don’t notice things that we can see.

Frostie Dancing To Shake Your Tail Feather!

180 View – I wish I could dance this well.


Demonstration Scripts

ERP, Project Management

A demonstration script is critical to the selection process but there are huge differences on how to do this. Rather than criticize the techniques we have read, I will share our methodology with you:

  1. Two demonstrations – You don’t want to go too deep on the first demonstration unless you are positive that the vendor will not waste your time (or their time)
  2. 1st demonstration – We base it on a small subset of the most important requirements in the RFP and limit the time to about 3 hours. We allocate a certain amount of time to each requirement and then total the amount of time for each section. We provide an agenda that includes the agenda time for each section as well as the scripted time and try to leave a buffer in certain sections.  There are usually 4 vendors invited for this demonstration.
  3. 2nd demonstration – We base it on the AS-IS business process and include sample documents. We ask the vendors to prepare a prototype of the suggested TO-BE business process and to include a certain number of the requirements from the RFP. We are evaluating vendors not just on the strengths of the system but also on their ability to improve business process. There are usually 2 vendors invited for this demonstration which often lasts for a day for each vendor.
  4. Access to clients – The vendors have access to our clients before each of the demonstrations. We want them to have every opportunity to do a great demonstration.
  5. Evaluations - Our clients are asked to note the major strengths, weaknesses and follow-up items by section as well as scoring each section. We do a detailed evaluation which includes notes on each requirement demonstrated as well as an assessment whether it is a strength or a weakness.

Our process is always evolving based on the feedback we get. Recent changes include:

  • Reducing the number of requirements
  • Using Survey Monkey for the evaluations done by our client
  • Adding more buffer time so vendors can make the presentation flow better and let them show off some of the features in the system that may not be included in the script but which they believe are very useful

Should you restrict ERP selection to just the major vendors?

ERP, Software Selection

We don’t think so. There are many excellent products built by small companies for specific industries that are worthy of consideration. But there are risks that the vendor will not be around for the long haul. There are a number of ways to evaluate long-term viability:

  • The system is built with old technology that is getting really difficult to support by the boomers ripe for retirement.
  • There is a lack of investment in the system. Ask to see the product roadmap and recent enhancements.
  • The company is not profitable. Private companies will be reluctant to release this but it can be obtained with an NDA late in the selection process. There can be extending circumstances such as the company now offers a subscription fee rather than up-front license fees.
  • There is a lack of good people available for implementation and support. Ask for resumes and meet members of the team.
  • Customers are not so happy with support. Ask for references that can be called or visited in person.
  • The owners are nearing retirement age. Ask them directly about their plans. Systems with a good client base and using recent technology will be purchased and will very likely be maintained and enhanced by the acquiring company who should know better than to alienate new customers. However if the technology is old or not built with industry-standard tools, then who can blame the new vendor from encouraging clients to convert to one of their other systems.

There are also advantages to being a bigger fish in a smaller pond.