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Managing Your Business's Packaged Software

It is almost impossible to be in business today without using some sort of software to run your day-to-day business operations.  Whether you use Quick Books or a high-end ERP package to manage your business operations, chances are that you quickly run up against the limitations of the software in relationship to your business's needs.

Packaged software that is designed to handle the needs of all businesses, will handle the needs of no business well.  While all businesses have some common needs and requirements such as the ability to keep it's books in a common, generally accepted format, most businesses have needs that are unique. 

In the past companies have handled their specialized needs in several different ways:

  • They write custom software from the ground-up.

  • They purchase software with source code and customize it.

  • They "fudge" their use of the software to make it fit their needs.

  • They create Excel spreadsheets or Access databases to handle their special needs.

  • They keep old systems that were supposed to be replaced by new software because the old software cannot be dispensed with.

None of these "solutions" are perfect, and in fact most of them are not solutions at all. 

While writing a custom solution often seems appealing, creating a totally custom business management solution is almost always a loosing proposition.  Common business functions such as accounting and payroll should never be customized.  There are way too many good packages in the marketplace.  Custom solutions may be necessary to handle specialized business processes.  It should extend existing software, not recreate it.

In the past, companies purchased the vendor's source code and modified or extended it.  This creates a number of problems.  The biggest is that the investment in source code modification locks you into an old version of the vendor's software.  As the vendor makes changes or extends their product, you will be unable to take advantage of those changes.

Sometimes users simply choose to use the vendor's software in ways that the vendor never anticipated.  This is a variant on the carpenter's outlook: when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.  The problem with this type of workaround is it lacks the controls to ensure that your data remains "clean."   In addition, upgrades to the software may make your "solution" impossible to use in the future.

Excel and Access are powerful tools.  However, like any powerful tool, they are misused as often as they are used.  In spite of their powerful capabilities for linking into data from other sources, spreadsheets and databases created by users frequently reference no external data.  

These solutions are usually populated with data by keying it in from another source.  This creates the "islands of data" problem. This is where the company's data is stored in numerous places (or islands) that do not talk to each other.  As the data is updated in one place, others are unaware of the changes.  

This situation leads to frequent arguments over whose data is right.  Rather than providing powerful tools for analysis and action, these systems cause paralysis and inaction.

The frequent outcome of all of these problems is that older systems, whether paper-based or computerized live on well past when they should have been dispensed with.  This leads to loss of productivity as the needs of the old systems as well as the new have to be tended to.

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