Customize, But at What

By Mel Duvall  |  Posted 2006-11-21 Print this article Print

The Canadian restaurant chain now opens new stores in 360 days instead of 390. But first it had to get over some hurdles working with project management software.


Customize, But at What Cost?

Dominick got his approval, and in early 2003 began evaluating options for a project management software suite. He selected a hosted package from Expesite; it came highly recommended from colleagues at Wendy's, which had been using the software since 2001. The software is co-hosted at a Qwest CyberCenter in Lewis Center, Ohio, and operates on a Microsoft SQL Server farm running on Dell servers.

Expesite began as a technology project by WD Partners, a Columbus architectural and engineering firm, as a means for architects, engineers and contractors to share documents. Realizing it had a valuable technology asset in its hands, WD Partners decided to spin off the software into a separate company and formed Expesite in 2000. Jeffrey Sopp, a former vice president with CompuCom Systems, a Dallas technology outsourcing firm, and president of Sarcom, a Columbus outsourcing company, was hired to spearhead the venture.

Since then, the company has been successful in securing a set of top-tier customers, including Wendy's, Home Depot, Fifth Third Bank and Whole Foods Market. Sopp believes the company's success is largely due to the fact that it knows the development process inside out from its origins at WD Partners. However, he also believes big factors have been the company's willingness to work with customers to customize the software to match their business processes, as well as the hosted application service provider model it offers, essentially taking away technology management headaches from customers who would rather focus on their core business.

Dominick and his department began formally working with Expesite in the spring of 2003. A team of three people from Expesite were sent to Oakville to work on-site—a factor that Dominick says was key to the project's ultimate success. Dominick didn't just want to install a factory-direct version of the software. He wanted to make it Tim Hortons' own—and, in fact, the software ended up being called Tim Tracs.

Dominick wanted to add a number of extra features, such as a module that could closely monitor whether a project was proceeding according to budget and create an alert if it was either delayed or piling up unbudgeted costs. He also wanted to create a living library for Tim Hortons—a place where documents related to all projects could be stored, not only for projects in development, but all the way back to Tim Hortons' very first store, built in 1964.

The answer from Expesite in all cases was either "We can do that" or "We don't have something like that . . . but we're sure we can do it."

Dominick says he knew the customization work was going to add costs to the project, but he wasn't prepared for exactly how much. As the bills started to come in, it became a source of contention between Tim Hortons and Expesite.

"Every time we would make a change, we would get into arguments over who was responsible," he says. "If I move a button an inch to the left on the screen, should I get an invoice for $2,000?

"If I were to do it again, I would have clearly established the fee structure, in terms of what is part of the package and what is custom development," he adds.

Expesite's Sopp acknowledges the early conflicts, and agrees it is something the companies should have prevented from the start. When entering into negotiations, companies usually opt for either a fixed-fee contract, which includes any and all necessary customizations, or a subscription model where customizations are paid for on a piece-by-piece basis. Tim Hortons opted for the second model, but the fixed-fee option would have been a better fit.

To keep a tighter handle on costs, the companies met and tried to prioritize work. "Rather than do everything on their wish list, we prioritized their real needs versus what would be nice to have," Sopp says. "Any software can have lots of customization. The true partnership is when the client and the customer work together to establish priorities and mission-critical requirements."

Contributing Editor
Mel Duvall is a veteran business and technology journalist, having written for a variety of daily newspapers and magazines for 17 years. Most recently he was the Business Commerce Editor for Interactive Week, and previously served as a senior business writer for The Financial Post.


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