During the pre-implementation and research phase, some companies often find that Value Added Resellers (or, VAR’s) will propose a paid engagement to help define the project. Different VAR’s will offer different kinds of engagements and have his or her own terminology. This may be a Time and Expense or a Fixed Price engagement. The VAR will have conducted a discovery process with you and your staff to enumerate your business objectives, business drivers and the impact on the company if a new business system is or is not implemented. Depending on the engagement, it may include a preliminary plan of what features and processes will be used and what modifications may be necessary. Some VARs will be able to give you a fixed price for the implementation based on this analysis. 

Paid engagements are helpful and necessary when you are ready to see the level of expertise a particular VAR has in order to make a final decision. Frankly, the more time you invest with your VAR before the final agreement, the better your odds of success.  Both of you will be well aware of the objectives, challenges and obstacles that stand in the way of a successful implementation, and a paid engagement can enhance the desired outcome. 

This engagement may be an Economic Impact Workshop.  This might outline the major goals, objectives and the financial or process impact on the business.  An Economic Impact Workshop gathers the input of the key players in a group setting to provide you with a vision of what your business will look like after you solve your current problems.  For example, if each sales rep could handle 20% more orders because of the increased efficiency, how would this impact your company in other areas?

A more comprehensive engagement might be a System Diagnostic.  This provides more detail than the Economic Impact Workshop by expanding the group dialogue to departmental discussions; thus obtaining more specific details at a department level.

This is like the Owner’s Manual for your car.  It is a lot smaller and easier to read than a System Specification (see the next paragraph) because it has a different purpose.  A System Diagnostic will tell you “what” needs to be done, but not “how” it will be done.  A System Diagnostic provides the outline of your business solution without the technical details.  It is less expensive, but it can still provide a fairly comprehensive discussion of what is covered in the project.  Since it takes less time to write, there is the potential for more surprises, but certainly fewer than if you don’t take this step.

A System Specification tends to be a more technical document that details the work to be done by the VAR.  This document provides you with a detailed description of exactly how the new system will work and what modifications will be required to accomplish the system goals. Think of the System Specification as the Technical Reference Manual for your car – very technical, very large and costly.  It not only outlines what must be done, but how it will be done (in general terms).  The cost may be worth it if you have a very complex business requirement or are very risk averse.  (Compare this to the cost of the architectural plan for your dream home.  It provides detailed instructions for the layout of your new home, but not where each nail or screw will go.)  This document will provide you with the level of detail required to support your quest for success.  Even with this detailed preparation, you will still have some surprises that will change the scope during your implementation, but they will be far fewer than if you have no preparation.

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