Short and long term application development planning
As you look at the development of a new company, it’s easy to see where it is in its overall “life cycle”. You may be able to label the phase as startup, growth, established, expansion, etc. But you’ll notice that things get more complex when your company reaches the “mid-level” business size. There are different projects within your business that are at different stages of development at the same time. This is especially true in the realm of IT where you may have several business software projects in the pipeline at once. Each project has a specific purpose that impacts the amount of resources committed to it and its timeline for completion.
Growth, stabilization, and expansion goals overlap with apps
Right now, many businesses are going through multiple, simultaneous phases in developing software to help their company become more established or to fuel expansion. In the TheServerside.com Readership Survey 2011, participants revealed their short and long term plans for developing business applications. The trends are very revealing. Almost 57% say their #1 project for the next 12 months is some form of web application. The #2 short-term project is a Customer Relationship Management app. The picture for the long term (24 months) is different. 70% of survey participants say creating and/or implementing a successful ERP application is their #1 goal over the next 2 years.
Why web apps and CRM now?
Web applications serve a couple of different purposes in the lifecycle of a business. At this point, it’s pretty much impossible to solidify a business model and position it for growth if you’re not online. But taking to the web involves more than just slapping together a website with nice graphics and informative text. Applications are the tools that make the website interactive and useful for everything from collecting business intelligence to driving revenue.
Many business leaders are learning the hard way that there’s no standardized set of web apps that will meet the individual needs of their company. They may need to develop and deploy customized applications that will allow them to manage content and documents effectively or handle financial data and transactions automatically. Or, they may need to identify, modify and integrate a number of “out-of-the-box” solutions to accomplish company objectives.
If the main goal is to improve current processes, the focus on web apps may be seen as a means of further establishing an already successful business model. That’s often the case with CRM software which streamlines the experience of an existing customer base. If you want to keep clients loyal to your brand, you need to give them online service that’s at least as good as the competition. To go above and beyond, you may want to implement a helpdesk, live chat feature, or feedback system that lets customers interact even more effectively with your company in real time.
In the ideal world, web applications are designed to springboard a company into its next expansion cycle. That’s certainly true of applications that capture the power of social media to reach an exponentially greater base of potential customers. Transactional and e-commerce apps that are designed to create and support profitability are another area where growth should be anticipated and planned for. Scalability is a major factor in designing web applications for an expansion phase. If an app can’t deliver an uninterrupted and user-friendly experience during times of peak traffic, customer trust and goodwill is the first casualty – followed closely be revenue.
The ERP game plan
It’s not surprising that Enterprise Resource Planning applications are in the 2 year project category for most businesses. An ERP is designed to support strategic initiatives for stabilization and growth over the long term. However, like a snake swallowing its tail, the ERP can’t be developed and implemented properly unless it is based on comprehensive strategic planning in the first place. You have to know what you want to get what you want from ERP. What are your top goals for gaining benefit or mitigating risk with an ERP?
- Managing a larger and more complex system as your business has grown and changed?
- Migrating away from a legacy mainframe to avoid issues associated with obsolescence?
- Complying with increasingly confusing industry or government regulations?
- Ensuring your enterprise processes are compatible with modern technology to facilitate further growth?
- Conserving IT resources while improving and expanding the capability of your software?
Fortunately, once you have the big picture in place, it’s generally possible to implement an ERP in phases rather than all at once. Some of these phases may include creating and deploying the kinds of web applications described earlier in this article. In fact, designing or adopting such web applications without considering how they will dovetail with an ERP is a waste of time and money. You’ll probably end up having to make costly and disruptive changes later. So, be sure to think of your short term web app projects in terms of the role they play in your long term strategic plan. This will save you from making the common mistake of changing just for the sake of change.