Four Ways to Increase Ownership of Your System

Four Ways to Increase Ownership of Your System

Written By: Mike Bodine

from May 4, 2015

Full disclosure: I’m a Microsoft Dynamics GP consultant and have been for the past 22 years. My company makes money by helping people implement, support, and maintain their systems, so it may seem odd that I would be writing an article on how to help control the costs of your systems. What I have found over the years is that our most successful projects and loyal customers are the ones where the customers themselves feel empowered to use and expand their systems without constant help from external consultants. That does not mean that consultants like me are without value. For example, end users should still seek out experienced professionals when they require guidance in new areas of their systems, are experiencing data or performance issues, or are looking to significantly expand the scope of their current implementation.

The first step in taking greater ownership of your system is to identify the areas that require the most consistent attention. While every system will be different, there are at least a few areas that tend to be common, and the focus of this article will be on how you can help control costs in those areas.

GENERAL DATA MAINTENANCE

Every transaction-based system has some form of data maintenance that has to occur. In order to maintain data integrity, performance, and recoverability, these maintenance processes should happen on a consistent basis. Backups, restores, data consistency checks, performance optimizations, data archiving, and data purging are common tasks associated with many systems. Organizations that learn how to perform these processes are able to keep their data cleaner and can react faster when a backup or restore operation is needed. Having cleaner data can mean less issues with system performance and data corruption, both of which can be costly to troubleshoot and resolve. Being able to perform your own backups and restores can make a big difference in the timing of a critical system recovery.

If you are using a cloud-based or hosted solution, make sure that you understand the general maintenance that is performed by the hosting company. You will want to make sure that there is no duplication of effort in the maintenance, as well as make sure that all areas of maintenance are being handled by someone. As an example, your hosting company may take care of the database backups and integrity checks, but they are probably not responsible for data archiving or performance optimizations.

REPORTING AND ANALYSIS

As a consultant, I am aware of the flow of many business processes, and I try to have a good understanding of how my customers run their companies. However, I will never have the same familiarity level with their processes as the people who work at those businesses every day. These people are usually the best resources for identifying and generating the reporting needed to effectively use the data that the systems are gathering.

Most systems have their own set of reporting tools, and they can have vastly different levels of complexity. Some reporting tools are best left to the professionals.

There are different levels of reporting and analysis that can be done by end users. Non-technical end users may be very helpful in identifying the data points that would be impactful for how they perform their work. Technical users may be able to learn the reporting and analysis tools so that they can start consuming the data in new ways that are meaningful to the company. If you have users who are technically-inclined and can learn the reporting and analysis tools, they can help you keep your consulting costs down while also providing you with effective and timely access to your critical data.

COMMITMENT TO THE COMMUNITY

Most well-established software solutions have communities built up around them. For the Microsoft Dynamics product lines, there are events such as Convergence and various user groups that can help guide your use of the system. Connecting with other people and companies that have similar processes or platforms can be very helpful in finding how to effectively use your own systems. These are not meant to replace your partner or consultants, but they can help keep you abreast of the current trends in the products you use as well as offer a place where you can seek feedback on your own system requirements and issues. Having these types of interactions can make you better prepared for having strategic discussions with your external partner on the direction of your systems.

Most of these communities have focus or discussion groups that pinpoint specific job roles or system functions. Try a few of them out and see if they offer you good information or insights for your own system. Some of the most prolific users of the software will often use these forums, and they will routinely offer their advice or guidance to other users.

Events like Convergence and the user group meetings are good venues to see new offerings or enhancements that could benefit your end users or business processes. These could be features that you already have in your systems but are not using, or possibly ways to expand the scope of your current systems so that they cover more of your business needs.

DOCUMENTATION

Personally, I hate writing documentation, but it is a necessary function when you are working with complex systems. The areas that generally are the most effective to document are customizations, standard operating procedures, and installation/maintenance routines.

By having your customizations documented, it is easier to track the functions and reasons for the modifications and which parts of the system and processes they impact. This can be very helpful in cases when you are evaluating upgrades or have turnover in your internal personnel or consulting partner. In most cases, customizations have to be thoroughly evaluated before an upgrade can happen. Having ready access to a list of the customizations and what they do can shorten the evaluation process significantly. Having documented customizations can also be beneficial when trying to perform troubleshooting of your systems, as most vendors and partners will need to know how your particular system implementation differs from a non-customized installation.

Documenting your daily processes and standard operating procedures can make for an easier transition in personnel from one position to another without the added expense of retraining the users. It also gives more personalized guidance to new users who are just coming into the system. These documents can also be utilized to help generate end-user testing plans for upgrades to the system.

Installation and data maintenance documentation can help your team handle the routine technical jobs associated with the system. By handling your own workstation installations, you can save in consulting fees and also be more agile in being able to swap out older hardware in your infrastructure.

Your partners and consultants can be valuable resources for helping you get the most out of your systems, but they do come at a cost. By taking on some additional ownership of the systems you run, you can make more effective use of both the systems and the consulting dollars you spend on partners and consultants. Even with the surge in hosting and cloud-based solutions, many of these core areas still require attention, and giving them some level of consideration and effort can help save you valuable resources in the future.