Data Management

New Technology Drives Corporate Upgrade

30 Jul, 2007 By: Michelle Nicolson

When two firms adopt project management software, both discover the changes affect more than just their computers.

When VICORP Restaurants went looking for a new project management solution in 2003, the organization needed something that didn't come in lines of code or on the tech support line. Under new management, the privately held company -- which owns and operates the Village Inn and Bakers Square restaurant chain -- had a mandate to open at least 115 new restaurants in five years. That’s a tall order for a company that was launching on average three to five new locations annually at the time, and it meant that the company itself needed an upgrade.

After 18 years with VICORP, Frank Scherer, vice-president of development, knew that his organization’s current method of operation simply couldn’t keep up with the new pace. Yet given the scheduled timeline, “we had to figure out how to be that type of company quickly,” he said.

Scherer began by looking for a solution that would help his team manage the numerous national site acquisitions required by the new high-growth plan. After evaluating several, he found Expesite’s Web-based project management solution.

Paradigm Shift
With a customized version of Expesite, all of VICORP’s team members and vendors -- including architects, engineers, real estate professionals, and contractors -- could distribute and access real-time information about development projects. Using just a Web browser and Internet access, VICORP’s development personnel could manage multiple projects more effectively by allowing everyone to communicate, collaborate, and share project information.

Expesite’s project management solution offers a visual snapshot of every project’s status.

But adopting the technology was simple compared to the internal changes the company required at a deeper level. “The rollout was a major paradigm shift for some people,” Scherer explained. “So many people needed to be involved and get onboard with the changes; yet there were people who refused to change.”

The solution’s new workflow process brought to light some internal issues. “Since the process was now transparent, people were being held accountable,” Scherer said. “That sounds like a bad thing, but it was actually good. There was no hiding the fact if something wasn’t going according to plan. It prevented a lot of problems.”

Scherer thinks the challenges he experienced in implementing new technology are more common than most people realize -- particularly the companies selling the technology. In fact, Scherer found this corporate cultural change to be so essential to successful implementation that he recommends any company looking to incorporate new technology spend time up front to evaluate how the process will work.

“I even recommended it to Expesite’s management,” Scherer said. “It would be great if Expesite would incorporate a gut-wrenching Change Model Class to prepare corporate leaders for the intense paradigm shift that lies ahead. It sounds so simple to buy software and implement; but for an organization that has done it one way for decades, it’s much more complex than that.”

Pipeline to Vendors
For RetailWorks -- a development company that provides small-space retailers with site selection, design, finance, construction, and property management services -- fast-paced is the norm. Like VICORP, the need for a project management solution was much the same. After working with Expesite to develop a custom version of its product, RetailWorks began using the product about a year ago.

“We wish we had done it sooner,” said Brian Townsley, RetailWorks’ regional project manager. “Basically we wanted to have one source where everyone comes to a central point where they get information and share information. That way we know who’s got the latest version. Expesite keeps track of who has received the information and downloaded it. It allows us to monitor the process much more closely.”

Companies can use project management software to keep project documentation current and ensure everyone is working with the latest versions.

This level of communication is important to the company because RetailWorks deals with numerous clients on multiple projects. Although the project management software fit well into the company’s current workflow, getting their vendors to work proved to be more complicated.

“Getting people to buy into it and use it takes time -- particularly vendors,” Townsley said. “But we can require our vendors to communicate with us in certain ways if they want to do business with us. About half had already used Expesite, and they didn’t need convincing. For the others, like anything it takes work to get people up and running. But part of being a good vendor is doing what we ask. If they want to do business with us, they need to use Expesite.”

In fact, RetailWorks is now so dedicated to its Expesite product that the company uses it as a marketing tool to attract new business for its services. “We actively introduce Expesite to our clients,” Townsley said. “Expesite makes us look good.”

Eyes Wide Open
After overcoming the initial resistance, VICORP also began reaping the benefits of the new system quickly. One of the biggest changes was the access to the hard data, which in turn made the company become more realistic about forecasting.

“We thought that we could build a restaurant in 120 days, but it’s actually closer to 138 days,” Scherer said. “That makes a difference when you are putting a growth plan in place across the nation. Expesite’s software helped opened our eyes, and in turn provided us with more realistic, better forecasting. We became more knowledgeable about our own capabilities.”

Expesite’s real estate pipeline views provide hard data about site acquisition processes.

The software also provided some simpler cost benefits, particularly with the integration of digital files. For example, the company could now scan and upload sets of plans and use email for notifying all parties. “Electronic communication saves a lot of time, and we picked up more revenue days,” Scherer said.

ICORP just opened its 65 th restaurant and is well on its way to meeting its target of the 104 th store by the end of 2009. Scherer gives credit to Expesite’s custom application in getting this far. “If we didn’t have this communication tool, it would be chaos,” he said. “It’s still intense even with it, but now it’s manageable.”

About the Author: Michelle Nicolson

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