Last week I had the privilege of participating in a lively roundtable discussion sponsored by Food Logistics called “Software and Technology Part II: Wringing out Costs, Elevating ROI.”

It was an enlightening discussion (which you can listen to on demand), and a lot of the questions directed to me were about the software buying process. So I thought I’d distill my responses into some general rules on how to properly approach a technology purchase for your supply chain.

1. Identify the problem[s] you want to solve today and target those.

Companies seem to take a feast or famine approach to this key initial step. They either stumble ahead without much thought and buy something that turns out to be a bad fit, or they sit around and ponder all the fantastic things they’d love to do with the system someday – and end up with a solution that doesn’t deliver much immediate benefit.

Our advice is to find the middle ground: find the actual needs of the business and the real problems you’re trying to solve and look for a solution that will help you address those. And don’t expect the technology to be the absolute answer to all your prayers. The reality is that the software is part of an overall solution and can help drive the change, but you need to make sure you’re driving the change the business actually wants and not addressing a bunch of other matters.

2. Approach the bigger picture incrementally

Big IT projects cost big money – and require big implementations. As a result, they take a long time to generate a return on investment. Our advice to prospective small to mid-size customers is to find a solution that enables you to make small improvements on a regular basis and help build out an overall strategy. By doing so you’ll have a lower upfront investment [and lower risk] and be able to put some quick wins up on the board that you can then trumpet to senior management – which will help you nail down that next level of investment. As they say, success breeds success.

3. Do your homework upfront

Today buyers are much more informed than they were even a few years ago. And that’s a good thing. When you’ve done a bunch of research and have a good sense of what you’re trying to accomplish, it enables us to focus on how certain elements of a solution or its functionality can be applied to your business. That kind of in-depth project planning has two key effects: it generates quicker buy-in from senior management [and the people writing the checks], and it culminates in a more effective delivery and implementation of the solution.

4. Stay away from “disruptive” technologies

Disruptive technologies are fun to embrace in some parts of your life. The supply chain is not one of them. I always warn companies not to get ahead of themselves just because somebody out in the marketplace today is developing some mobile app for the supply chain. Many companies today aren’t even using some of the established supply chain technology that’s been around for years, so it comes back to having to walk before you can run. You’ve got to get the right pieces in place before you get too excited about doing the other bits. You don’t want to get your business buried in something that’s not proven. There’s a reason why the latest technologies are taken up by very large companies to begin with: Because they’ve got the people and the money to dabble in them to see how they might – key word, might – benefit the business before rolling them out live in a wider way.

Throughout my career in the supply chain industry, I’ve always felt success boils down to three things: people, process, and systems.  You need to get the proper people involved in adopting the technology. You need to put the best processes in place to ensure that any changes are rolled out correctly. And finally you need to get the right system – the right size, the right fit and the right technology to solve the right problems. My guidelines here will set you on the right path to tackling the technology part of the equation – whether in the supply chain realm or beyond.

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