10 tips for a successful system implementation

By Annabel Sweet: People, Culture and Change Lead

Implementation and deployment of new technology is one of the most challenging things that an organisation can go through. It’s fraught with potentially costly errors that could cause a project to be delayed beyond deadline or, worse, disengage employees and make their jobs more difficult instead of easier. That sounds grim, but it’s the reality if you don’t go about it in the correct way.

Having been through the process several times, here are some tips so that you’re left with progressive, future-proofed systems and, just as importantly, a happy, more productive workforce.

1. Pick technology based on your business needs

All technology should be driven by business needs and processes – not what the technology vendors suggest that you need for your business. Letting technology lead your business, rather than your business lead technology, will take you down a path where staff are left perplexed by its introduction into their daily lives and the board are left perplexed by the lack of return on investment.

For any enterprise system to have the desired impact and initiate a step-change in business processes and performance, whether Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or Human Capital Management (HCM),  it’s crucial that you conduct an organisation-wide utilisation map and gap analysis – then identify the best solution to address those issues.

2. Engage users from the off

It’s an obvious thing to say that technology requires buy-in from the people who will be using it, otherwise its potential won’t be realised. And yet, engaging users of the system is often an afterthought for many businesses, with all efforts placed into gaining approval from the board and making sure the build goes to plan.

It’s vital to involve employees in the process from the start, with consistent messaging, to ensure that they adopt the technology with an open mind. But before that, it’s a great idea to involve senior users in the business case development – then when you make the case to the board, you do so with the backing of the senior managers.

3. Let business needs dictate the technology solution

There’s little doubting that cloud is the future of technology – but that’s not to say that it’s right for your business now. So, let business needs dictate the technology solution.

It’s worth noting that software-as-a-service solutions generally can’t be customised, which forces users to adapt business processes to the software and can also impact integration with legacy systems. An upgrade of your on-premises system might suit you better.

4. Don’t put style over substance

Features are what sell a technology solution, but businesses shouldn’t be drawn in too much by such sales tactics. When they are, they tend to forgo some functionality, which can be fatal for an enterprise implementation project. Instead, businesses should consider each solution’s industry success history, customisation, flexibility and integration ability. If the system can’t do what you need it to do first and foremost, it’ll be like putting lipstick on a pig.

5. Carefully consider the people aspect

Business transformations will not take place driven by technology alone. Success is much more likely through managing change across three key organisational areas: people, process and technology. In addition to conducting a deep analysis of your processes and systems, you need to carefully consider the people aspect and how that will need to be managed.

As well as changing the way that employees and managers perform their role, a new system can widen who users interact with – especially if the software incorporates social application capabilities. Staff need to be ready for this change in dynamic, so don’t overlook those more nuanced people implications of change management. And recognise them early in the process.

6. Keep communication channels open

Part of ensuring communication is consistent is to regularly provide updates with how the project is progressing and when users can expect it to be completed. Nobody likes to find themselves out of the loop when it’s them that the change is impacting, so if you’ve said that everything will be in place “by the end of next year” in your ‘pitch’ to employees, don’t let that deadline come and go without some acknowledgement.

Use all your existing channels, be clear on your messaging first before you start and reinforce that messaging throughout the project.

7. Don’t break your back for false deadlines

Speaking of deadlines, you’ll probably find yourself setting targets that ultimately have no real significance attached to them – they’re set to ensure that the project stays on track. However, be careful of setting too many ‘false’ deadlines, as they can put unnecessary stress on the project team, who are under enough pressure as it is. Of course, there will be some read ‘hard’ deadlines which you need to meet without fail – that’s the time you should be breaking your back, not for the soft deadlines.

8. Don’t go back on your promises

As part of your technology pitch to employees you might promise them things in order to get their buy-in. But be careful what promises you make, as those on the receiving end will remember and hold you to them. If, for example, you promise a high degree of employee self-service once the new system in place – but then once you see it in action, you decide it isn’t a good fit for your organisation and you take it away again, that can prove very dangerous for staff goodwill. Be sure what level of self-service you want to go to, so you don’t have to take it back somewhere down the road. Remember, implementing enterprise technology in your organisation isn’t going to solve world hunger, so focus on the core benefits it can bring and do it well…

9. Test and test again

Throughout the project, testing should be based on the agile methodology. In the haste to meet deadlines, testing is often the thing to make way, but that’s ultimately a false economy that will cost you more in maintenance. So, allow extra time for testing if necessary, and ensure that all types of users are part of the testing team as they will flag-up issues that IT might not see as a problem. Then make the amendments and retest – don’t go live without thoroughly checking all modifications.

10. Implement in stages

You don’t have to use all of the functionality of the new system from day one. That’s likely to kick up all sorts of issues around training that could be avoided by taking more of a phased approach. Let people learn the basics before introducing the more advanced functionality.

A lot of it is common sense. But when you’re in it, it can be difficult to see things from every different perspective. All you see are deadlines, which can cloud your thinking. Common sense, then, needs to become common practice.

At different stages throughout the project, keep coming back to these tips – over time, you won’t need the reminders, it’ll be second nature – or common practice.

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