The Need, The Selection, The Implementation – Part 2

How to Get There Safely From the Beginning.

The Story So Far: Remcan is a highly successful four-year-old company working full-tilt to keep pace with the needs of the railway industry.

In Part 1, the company realized it couldn’t afford to continue operating with a largely-manual system that was resulting in some unexpected expenses.

Remcan CFO John Thwaites is now convinced it’s time to take action and purchase software that will make the company more efficient. There’s only one problem. They’re up against a four-month window to get the job done.

Part 2: The Selection

In the railway business, you always want to make sure each tie is firmly connected. That’s equally true when trying to forge a strong business. It’s the links – from purchasing the right equipment to working with the right people – that makes all the difference in the world.

When John Thwaites gets Cathy Brown on the phone, he’s pretty confident he’s doing the right thing. Brown is a software selection consultant with a solid reputation. Still, he’s prudent.

Finding the Right Fit

“I’ve worked with them in the past and they’ve always delivered. They didn’t do an ERP search for me, but there were three other projects and in every case, they got things done. It was: Mission Accomplished. Customer Happy. I know that they are the type of company that will let us know if the job isn’t for them. They’re not into wasting our time, or their own,” Thwaites recalls.

With Brown on the other end of the line, Thwaites runs through a list of questions he has stored in his head.

  • Have you ever done anything like this before?
  • Who have you worked for previously?
  • How did those assignments turn out?
  • What is your area of expertise in this area?
  • What kinds of timelines, costs and issues are you aware of?
  • Do you have the capacity to do the job now?

He likes what he hears. The two agree to meet and a few days later, he and company president, Jason Thomas, head for Brown’s office.

Getting Down to Business Face-to-Face

Seven people gather around a boardroom table – three from Remcan and four from the consulting company.

Thwaites leaves it to Jason, who has no prior experience with Brown and her crew, to tease out any concerns.

“We talked about scope of service, expertise, experience and reference points. Then we asked them to get back to us with the scope of the offering, timeline, estimated costs; those types of things. It took about an hour. They also wanted to uncover what all the issues and challenges were.”

It’s All in the Details

Thwaites, Thomas and now vice-president Tom Winters, have some detailed requests. It’s the fieldwork that’s the big issue. Any product they select must provide:

  • Timely data collection;
  • Wi-Fi capability from the field into head office;
  • Robust infrastructure;
  • Accompanied with training for key field people.

Brown appreciated that Thomas knew precisely what he was looking for.

“Jason had a very clear idea of what he wanted. They’re a unique company where senior management is very accessible, and Jason is very hands-on and knows what’s going on out in the field. That means he really knows what he needs.”

The RFP

The Remcan boys leave, and it’s now up to Brown to complete the RFP. Thwaites says it has to be delivered within five days if they want to get this project squeezed in before the snow stops flying and the company is full-steam ahead for the next eight months.

Brown says it’s doable.

“There was nothing unrealistic about their requirements, nothing that was a big reach,” Brown says. “I had one vendor in mind for sure, one company that did oil construction and I knew they had a mobile device. The only potential issue is the budget. But the budget isn’t totally fixed, and I know that if we can prove the value, they’ll pay for it within reason. And I would never bring a software product out of scale with what they can afford.”

The Software Demos

Five days later, the RFP lands on Thwaites’ desk and now they have some decisions to make – with a price tag attached to it. Jason says yes.

Christmas season stalls the project for a few weeks, and they’re back at it again, this time with more detail so Brown can start serious vendor selection.

Brown identifies three companies, and sets up presentations for each of them. Two presentations get nailed down early, but between business travel, school holidays, and illnesses it takes nearly eight weeks before the final presentation takes place.

Reality Sinks In

With all three done, it’s an eye-opener for the crew at Remcan.

“I was a little bit surprised that there wasn’t more of this kind of capability out in the field already,” says Thwaites. “All of them touched on it, but none of them had a lot of systems out there running now. So that surprised me a little. It was a bit like they can’t customize as much as what we need.

“Remcan was learning that there is still a significant gap between what the mind can imagine and what technology can deliver. Despite impressions otherwise, Wi-Fi isn’t everywhere, which means data delivery from the outback isn’t around the virtual next corner.”

Customization Required

Customization is now on the table – the question is: how much customization does Remcan want?

And then there was the question of corporate culture. Remcan wants the company it works with to understand their nuances, and that doesn’t always come naturally to companies more familiar with working with large multi-national organizations.

Brown has her fingers crossed for the company that did the last presentation. But it turns out it’s not a good fit. The product might be good, their ideas good, but everyone can see there’s no real connection.

“There were shortcomings with all of them,” Thwaites says. “I guess we’re a little bit of an unusual beast. It’s like you need to cut and paste the proponents – that’s what became evident.”

Thwaites and his team head into a meeting. Time is marching on.

Testing the Waters

“They felt a bit stuck, not sold on anything,” Brown says. “And at that point, we figured: why don’t we do a pilot? Jason was intrigued, but not totally convinced. But then we explained this would be the perfect scenario – they would be able to test the time devices, get the timesheet entry, get some immediate benefits, without making a decision and doing a full revamp of the accounting system at the middle of the busy season.”

Now Thwaites is waiting for the budget to see how many of these handheld devices he can get into the field, and whether they can truly withstand everything Remcan will throw at it them, from being dropped into mud to operating in sub-zero temperatures.

Looks like Phase 2 – the ERP roll-out – will have to wait.

“Overall, doing this in two phases will add costs, but it will spread out those costs over a longer period of time. And for Remcan, that works,” says Brown.

Stay tuned and find out what happens when Remcan supervisors get to test drive what it’s like to input data remotely, and whether Thwaites sees improvements to his bottom line in Part 3 of The Need, The Selection, The Implementation: How to Get There Safely From the Beginning. If you missed last week’s chapter in Remcan’s story, be sure to read Part 1.

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