Minimum Viable Product

Is this the key to successful implementations?

“Although organisations don’t set out to do processes badly, in many cases that is exactly what they do, especially when technology is involved.”

Or so says Dr Brad Poulson, until recently Head of Innovation & Systems at Central College Nottingham and Honorary Associate Professor at Nottingham Business School.

In this Case Study, Crimson explains its approach based on the concept of delivering the Minimum Viable Product and building on this.

Having spent an earlier life with high profile organisations such as Boots and IBM, Brad is a highly skilled CIO who works with organisations at the intersection of Information Systems, Operations Management and Organisational Behaviour & Change to develop their process capability through the strategic application of information systems.

Brad’s doctoral thesis and recently published book – Process Detox – shows how most organisations are pre-destined to operate poor processes either from the point of view of their staff, their customers or both! The premise for this is based on the observed difficulty that organisations experience in changing their business processes to align with the implementation of ERP systems, which were selected largely because the way they work delivers industry best-practice.

Known as “the commodity adoption paradox”, this asks why, if a process is truly a commodity, i.e. it has no special value to an organisation, that organisation struggles to adopt it. This highlights the practical difficulties of how organisations understand what they do and how they do it and most often believe their processes are more complex or more unique than they actually are. They thus design a solution that is too complex or expensive to implement effectively, when a more commoditised solution would have sufficed. The result is all too often a solution where the implementation is not complete or where staff perceive its use to be contrary to efficient service delivery.

Central College

Imagine Brad’s reaction when he sat in on a presentation of Crimson’s Accelerator-based model for CRM solution delivery. This is centred on commoditised core functionality delivered by Microsoft Dynamics CRM – essentially a generic CRM solution providing commoditised, but configurable processes. Central College was already using Microsoft Dynamics and had made some configurations and customisations to this, but the results weren’t really working – “commodity adoption paradox” in action!

Crimson then presented its Accelerators which append the core Microsoft functionality with a range of sector best practice processes for student recruitment, event management, schools liaison and employer engagement among others. This approach is based on the premise that all institutions within a sector have very similar core practices and that by designing software that is based on a detailed understanding of these practices, Accelerators deliver sector best-practice.

This forms the basis for an implementation based on commoditised processes or what Crimson calls Minimum Viable Product. Bingo thought Brad, a system with which we are already broadly familiar, but with the necessary finesse to deliver sector best-practice without doing any additional work other than to adopt it!

Degree of Fit

The next stage was to thoroughly investigate how close the Crimson Accelerators really did come to satisfying the process requirements in all key functional areas of the College and this was achieved with a 3 day diagnostics session by led Crimson’s own consultants and subject matter experts from across the College. Throughout these workshops Brad was in attendance challenging users when they asked for changes to the standard Accelerator process – the point being that this should be avoided just to accommodate methods that weren’t essential, but were “the way we do it now” and would add cost and complexity to the implementation process.

“We were intrigued with Crimson’s approach to delivering college-specific functionality via its pre-configured Accelerators. They were so aligned to the way colleges work that we deployed them with little or no customisation and have been delighted with the results,”
Dr Brad Poulson, Head of Innovation & Systems, Central College Nottingham.

Four years on and Central College has merged to become Nottingham College and Brad has moved on, but the Crimson solution is still being used to great effect for business and student engagement. The implementation adopted fundamentally the operating methodologies as laid down by the Accelerators with configuration and customisation only required to enable CRM to integrate with ancillary systems utilised at the College.

Edinburgh Napier University

A not dissimilar situation was encountered at Edinburgh Napier University and was the subject of a recent case study presentation at the UCISA Corporate Information Systems Group conference in Manchester in November 2017. Ruth Swan, Senior Student Recruitment Officer at Napier outlined their previous experience which had convinced them that CRM was key to the achievement of recruitment targets, but that their current system did not go far enough.

“We needed a more comprehensive solution which covered all the enquiry channels, plus event management and schools liaison,” explained Ruth. “In addition we wanted to integrate with data already held in our SITS system and with the email marketing system we use. In short, we wanted the system to work the way we worked, but we didn’t have the time or budget to build a bespoke solution completely from scratch”.

 

This was a variation on the “commodity adoption paradox” where what the university had been using was too generic to suit the requirement and as a result staff felt that they needed was the other extreme, namely a completely bespoke system. Whilst this is certainly one way of getting the system you want and it is true that universities have larger budgets to devote to such a venture, this is undoubtedly the most expensive, time-consuming and riskladen approach.

Brad’s argument is that if you can find a solution that is based on best-practice and is not wildly out of line with how you operate, you are better served to adopt this and modify your processes unless there is an absolutely compelling reason to develop a bespoke solution. Fortunately Napier recognised that they had neither the time, resource or budget to build a bespoke solution and started to look for alternatives.

This is precisely the situation that Crimson has designed its Crimson Dynamics solution to solve. Generic CRM systems provide excellent core functionality, but do not deliver the sector-specifics which are essential to good functional fit and resultant user adoption. Their commoditised functions and processes are thus not close enough to the customer requirement to work effectively.

However, Crimson has designed its range of Accelerators to add sector best-practice functions and processes to the core generic system, thus providing a highly relevant, commoditised, HE solution. Crimson also has the sector knowledge and experience to deliver configurations and customisations which add true value, via its in-house team of consultants and developers.

“Crimson has brought us the best of both worlds – by being based on Microsoft Dynamics CRM, with which we were already familiar and by delivering a wide range of pre-built HE functionality via its range of Accelerators. We retained the ability to achieve our own bespoke features by having a knowledgeable supplier like Crimson provide us with consultancy and guidance,” concludes Ruth.

“You cannot achieve your bespoke system unless you know what you want it to do. The effort and resource required to do this and see the project through should not be underestimated either as you need to develop new skill sets. The benefit of working with a Dynamics provider with HE experience such as Crimson was invaluable”.

Conclusion

Brad’s experience and expertise clearly advocates the adoption of a pre-built solution, or what he calls a commoditised process, unless vital and unique benefits can be obtained by creating a bespoke solution. The cost, time and risks involved in the latter shouldn’t be underestimated.

Napier’s experience is more typical of the complexity of requirements within HE, but underlines the benefit of building a solution on best-practice, commoditised processes, or Minimum Viable Product, as this leaves time, money and effort to invest in the really important, local preferences such as interoperability with ancillary systems which inform and are informed by CRM.