3 solutions for optimizing technology in business processes
If you've ever implemented an ERP or other software package you know that a frequent part of the process is what is known as a "fit-gap analysis." In a fit-gap analysis your implementation partner helps you assess functionality of the new software that is a "fit" with your current needs and business processes and where there may be any "gaps" that must be addressed through changes in business process or through configuration or customization of the system. Typically, this analysis is written into your initial implementation contract.
You may not be implementing new software but the principles of a fit-gap analysis apply, even to existing implementations. As software continues to develop (sometimes in ways that could replace customizations or workarounds that each institution may create for themselves over time), institutions can find themselves in the position of new "gaps" where they don't take advantage of new functionality delivered with new versions of the software that come with routine patches and updates. This is natural unless institutional staff review all provided documentation whenever new versions are released. In addition, it is common for day-to-day operations to take precedence over re-implementation of software that may be required when new functionality is introduced.
Another challenge may come when institutions don’t intentionally conduct routine business process reviews as processes change over time (again, we typically give precedence to daily operations so this too can occur naturally). However, lack of regular process reviews can also result in underutilized software functionality when business processes could be adapted to use existing features (or other process improvements that may be possible). As a side note, business process reviews also create documentation for your current processes which is a benefit for training as well as review (and help you document continuous improvement that is typically requested from accreditors).
So, what can you do?
First, you may be attending annual user conferences in which new functionality is displayed by the vendor or other institutions. If so, take advantage of the collegiality of higher education and learn from other institutions. They may also offer some creative solutions to the challenges that you too are facing as we try to serve our many constituencies.
Second, you could conduct your own “usage audit” by intentionally reviewing the latest software documentation and determine the degree to which you are using all of the functionality. Such an audit would provide a comparison of current practices to existing functionality of the software and show you where there are opportunities for improvement (and, in some cases, it may prevent you from purchasing a new software package that may even duplicate functionality that you already have).
Finally, some software companies can help complete a usage audit for client institutions (particularly if you have been using your software for many years). This audit may come at a cost (rarely is this service included in annual maintenance agreements) but the cost should be weighed against the cost to the institution of not implementing the functionality that may be available. Regardless of the option you choose, doing so would help you optimize and set a new baseline for functionality for which you are already paying and maximize your return on this critical institutional investment.
by Dr. Reid Kisling, AACRAO Senior Consultant