Why First Quarter is the Best Time to Consider Overhauling Legacy Systems

Business leaders and team members rarely evaluate them with a critical eye, owing to both the status quo and organizational inertia

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Although people usually associate the starting of the year with personal resolutions, it is also an opportune time for entrepreneurs in Asia Pacific to re-evaluate their company. And just as individuals rethink their habits - how they eat, exercise, or even spend - business leaders also need to focus on the most deeply ingrained practices at businesses. Since we seldom question them, they can be a source of meaningful change, an application of the 80/20 rule on our internal organization and culture.

A company’s deeply ingrained practices do not arise organically - they are formalized through both proprietary and third-party systems across every aspect of the business, from sales and marketing to payroll, admin, and human resources. Though well-intentioned, these systems can occasionally lead to a loss in the agility that organizations typically pride themselves on.

An internal procurement tool, for example, could create needless red-tape when it forces employees to seek approval for even the most insignificant of purchases, such as a package of pens. A third-party customer relationship management (CRM) system could drain the energy (and morale) of the sales team when it obligates them to spend hours of their day encoding data that provides no meaningful value to their leads or deals. Systems, in other words, can exhaust the very people they were meant to enable.

Though systems can outgrow their usefulness, business leaders and team members rarely evaluate them with a critical eye, owing to both the status quo (i.e. these are how things have always been) and organizational inertia (i.e. simply getting the right people to decide on it, etc). Since getting internal stakeholders to assess systems can be a challenge, here are three key best practices for doing so.

Frame your Recommendation in Terms of Opportunity Cost 

When someone sounds the alarm that a system may not be working well, internal resistance most often boils down to cost.

Others will argue that the costs of switching over from one system to a new one will be expensive, either due to direct expenses (i.e. the price of the new system) or indirect expenses (i.e. the cost of training people to be as productive as they were with the old system).

To address these doubters, point out how much the company stands to lose by sticking with the old system in terms of lost productivity. An outdated social listening tool, for instance, could be forcing your marketing team to waste time manually sifting through posts that share a synonym with your firm but are not really company mentions. Switching over to a newer system that can contextually identify what is an actual company mention will ultimately make your marketing team more productive and nimble.

By establishing that the old system represents an opportunity cost, you also implicitly frame the new one as an opportunity, one that people will inevitably want to seize.

Galvanize support from across the organization

Though you may be the first to recognize a problem with a particular system and you may see an urgent need to implement a new one, you cannot realize its benefits without first persuading others on the merits of change. The more embedded a system is in your organization, the more stakeholders you’ll need to revamp it. To put it bluntly, there is some element of politicking when it comes to systems overhaul, but it need not be nefarious.

Approach stakeholders from the unique perspective that matters to them. If you want to switch in an outdated human resource information systems (HRIS) platform with a modern, innovative solution, you should pitch human resources on how it will expedite their payroll and other key processes, finance on how much money it’ll save in reduced man-hours, and leadership on how it’ll enable the organization to focus on product and business development. The effect of such campaigning is finesse: Rather than getting people to support your idea, you make it seem like it was theirs in the first place all along.

Emphasize that No System is a Silver Bullet

Though many marketing teams would have you believe otherwise, no system will magically solve all of a company’s problems in that area. A solution is ultimately only as effective as the department’s or company’s willingness to buy into it fully. Since you must adhere to a system in order to maximize its effectiveness, you should take it upon yourself to set your company up for success.

Do what you can to ensure that your company not only transitions to the new system smoothly but continues to integrate it on a day-to-day basis from there. A shiny new CRM, for example, can have all the greatest features in the world, but none of them will make any difference if your sales team is not actively using it to track where leads are in the sales funnel.

Fortunately, many companies that offer enterprise systems also provide a customer success team that can help you get the most out of their solution. Be sure to take advantage of these opportunities, even if it requires some time to be proactive, as this investment in ensuring the successful adoption of new innovations is what will set you apart from your competitors: While everyone else is stuck with their legacy systems, you will be free to build your legacy.