Since joining a company with “Solutions” in its name, I’ve become increasingly – and sometimes painfully – aware of the ways in which people casually misuse this little word. For example, I couldn’t help physically cringing recently when my Google search for a major player in business software yielded this gem of a tagline:
“Discover how our business solutions help customers implement best-in-class solutions…”
Ugh. This is just one instance of the many ways the term Solution gets used and abused today. A solution is supposed to make a problem go away, to meet a need. But in modern business-speak, it has come to be a catch-all word for “thing” or “service”. When a company sells Solutions, they often simply mean a specific piece of software or collection of tools. Certainly, if these are used well they can be part of a solution, but on their own they are next to totally useless. After all, no matter how great a computer program is, if you never use it, there’s nothing it can do to help you. Really, I think what our anonymous software company meant to say was:
“Discover how our software helps customers solve problems elegantly (when used properly)”
What it takes to solve business problems
When I run into challenges in my work life, I want real solutions. I want to know what I can do, or what someone else can do for me to remove the pain I’m feeling. And so, I want to work with individuals and companies who know what Solution really means. I want to work with people who take the time to understand what I’m up against, and who bring their expertise to bear to provide a tailor-made course of action that makes things better.
What I’m talking about here is Consultancy-Led Software and Solutions. Real solutions happen when people who know what they’re talking about take the time to get to know your situation and make bespoke recommendations. It’s the difference between selling someone a standard Word Processing package because they want to create wedding invitations, and providing them with beautiful templates and training on how to use and customize them.
There’s a software component to most business solutions today, but really we should never be conned into thinking that software on its own will make much of a dent in the kinds of complex problems we all routinely face. At S4RB, we believe that the best business solutions are made up of three strands:
- Beautifully engineered software
- Professional services to configure the software for your specific needs
- Training and ongoing support to make sure you get the most out of your investment
Let me illustrate with a few real-life scenarios…
A major US retailer made a bunch of sustainability commitments a few years ago, and realized they needed a way to collect data to measure and track their progress. They consulted S4RB, and we came up with a solution involving a standard piece of software, some clever configuration and a high-impact communications campaign. We loaded the software (accessible from anywhere via a web browser, of course) with as much data as possible, then asked suppliers to log on and fill in the remaining few key details that were needed. We could have trained the retailer to do all this themselves, but they didn’t have the manpower to execute properly, so we also provided them with some skilled consultants who were able to run things on their behalf. The result? A 99% response rate from suppliers in just 4 weeks. (Read the full case study).
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, a supermarket chain with a big focus on helping local, small-scale suppliers get products into their stores was facing a big challenge. Newly-introduced legislation meant that all suppliers needed to update their food labels or face having their wares withdrawn from sale. However, many of the small businesses this retailer worked with lacked the understanding and resources to become compliant before the government deadline. The solution we were able to offer them involved supporting these struggling suppliers with an online self-help portal full of information on how to comply with the new regulations. This not only helped suppliers, but saved the retailer a lot of time and money they might otherwise have spent responding to individual supplier queries. (Read the full case study).
It’s a complex world, and there aren’t many genuine off-the-shelf solutions out there. The next time you’re facing a challenge in your business, please remember that the best solutions are consultancy-led. Find someone with the right expertise who will also take the time to understand your needs and deliver a solution that really fits.