Is That It? The Benefits of Continuous Configuration

May 11, 2017 2:00 PM ET
Campaign: Getting to Impact

Is That It? The Benefits of Continuous Configuration

Anyone can get cold feet when it comes to migrating to a new software solution or implementing a brand new system to tackle any kind of complex process. Managing corporate philanthropy is no different and based on the stories I’ve heard, people have good reasons to be reluctant to change.

It doesn’t have to be that way, however, and the best way to illustrate that is to share a story about Alaska Airlines.

Alaska Airlines has been giving back to communities in a significant way, to the tune of millions of dollars, for many years and in various capacities. Their giving includes multiple programs and focuses, across regions, and different types of giving. In short, it’s a complex program to manage. They decided to migrate their grants and ticket voucher donation program to Versaic.

Despite my repeated assurances that the implementation process would be straightforward for the Alaska Airlines team, Barb Johnson, the manager of community relations, cleared her calendar for two months, rolled up her sleeves and prepared to dive in. She hired an intern to help with the day-to-day activities. She was ready.

To kick things off, we had a handful of meetings and phone calls to scope out their business requirements. Our team is quite adept at extracting clients’ critical requirements, pain points and goals. Off we went to start building the system, checking in with Barb every couple of days to vet our progress and fine-tune. A few weeks after kickoff, we shared a preliminary system with their team.

“Is that it? Was it that simple?”

Not what I expected to hear from Barb. She had clearly steeled herself for multiple, in-depth meetings, lots of back and forth with the teams, piles of homework, troubleshooting and course correction. After giving the okay to our team, she thought she’d have to live or die by the specification she had provided. None of that happened. Versaic did all the heavy lifting. Our process is so streamlined that Barb spent a fraction of the time she expected to invest in the transition. It was a very successful launch.

As Barb later said to me, “This was about as close to painless as I could imagine.”

Fear & Risk

Numerous concerns surface when a company wants to migrate to a new system:

  • It will take too much time, both in terms of the process and the demands on my team.
  • It won’t work the way I want it to work.
  • My needs are always changing or I’m not really sure what I need in the first place!
  • My data might get lost or somehow compromised.
  • I’m not technical and am afraid the system will be over my head.

This is hardly an exhaustive list but captures the primary obstacles that get in the way of a company making a needed change. Weighed against this list, the status quo – as cumbersome as it might be – often wins out… that is until things get too difficult or painful, or something big slips through the cracks.

Iterate and Tweak

It used to be that a company had to choose between two options: custom software, which gave you exactly what you were looking for (at least at that moment in time) but took forever to define, specify, and execute (and cost a bundle!); or off the shelf software, a cost-effective but take-what-you-get offering. Both left much to be desired.

Versaic is the only company in our line of business to take a different approach to software implementation, a model called continuous configuration which is a nerdy name for something that delivers huge benefits.

Instead of tackling every detail and implementing the entire system in one fell swoop, with continuous configuration an initial version of the system that addresses the most critical requirements is delivered quickly, with subsequent iterations adding additional features and tweaking processes until everything is just right… and then continuing to optimize as new situations arise and needs change and evolve over time.

How is this a boon for clients?

  • You get to start working with your system right away instead of waiting weeks and weeks to get your hands on it.
  • You only need to be involved at critical junctures where your feedback and guidance is needed. This represents a huge time-savings, meaning you spend less time immersed in the process and we get the product into your hands faster.
  • You can see how the system works “in the field” and make quick updates based on new or unanticipated needs. This gives you lots of wiggle room to make changes – or change your mind.
  • You get exactly what you need, mapped to your processes, without extra bells and whistles to get in the way.

What Next?

For many companies, especially those that have had a less-than-great experience with a software vendor, the million-dollar question is what happens after I go live? It’s a given that things will change. New reports will be required, different processes implemented, new people will get involved, and unexpected challenges will arise. Then what?

Rather than being the end-goal, system implementation is the first step. Don’t let your software vendor breathe a big sigh of relief after go-live and move on. Your company needs an ongoing partner to make sure your system evolves along with the needs of your program. Learn, tweak and improve! Testing and optimizing should be done regularly to ensure your system is functioning effectively and efficiently.

You should be getting solid, best-practices advice from a dedicated team who knows your goals and programs and will collaborate with you to manage your program for success. When I asked about the keys to implementation success with Versaic, Barb Johnson from Alaska Airlines added, “Don’t forget to mention the continued support to fine-tune the product during the inception to ensure everything is running smoothly.” Duly noted.

So if you’re thinking of making a switch, don’t be nervous, be smart. Ask lots of questions to find what you need in a partner. Quick tip: ask about client retention rates or average duration of a client engagement. The answer will be very telling. And beware the “cut and run” – you’re in this for the long haul and your software partner should be right there with you. Your success depends on it. 

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