Implementing new business systems successfully

By Derek Stockley.

In this business management article, Derek Stockley provides an approach for implementing new business systems in organisations.

Many organisations are reviewing business practices and upgrading information technology (IT/ICT).

The need to achieve a smooth system implementation, free of omissions and delays, is obvious for successful business management.

Unfortunately, past implementation exercises may not have gone smoothly. Many staff will know of situations that have become folklore within the organisation. Sometimes, departments/business units have suffered a loss of credibility that has affected their reputation for months or years.

Whilst a smooth and error free implementation can never be guaranteed, particularly where new technology is involved, there are processes and actions that can maximise the positives and minimise the problems.

Factors that need to be considered include:

the extent and complexity of the change;

the availability of staff for the extra work and time involved;

staff skills and experience in implementing change, particularly technological change.

Changes, particularly those involving technology, are intensive users of resources.

As resources are scarce in most organisations, special attention is required.

Effective control in day-to-day administration is essential. Consequently, control is critical when complementing changes.

A difficulty experienced by some organisations has been the loss of historical knowledge and experience caused by the turnover of staff. Whilst new staff or outsourced suppliers may have mastered the normal day-to-day running of the system, they may not have had any experience in implementing changes. Sometimes this means that staff do not know the assumptions and quirks built into the system. When change is contemplated, these assumptions need to be reviewed. This is very difficult when you do not know that they are there! System documentation may be of assistance, but many have difficulty reading such documents. Extensive testing of the new system is essential in this type of environment.

Software upgrades of proprietary systems can sometimes require an upgrade of the operating system/network software to the latest or later version. This may even require upgrades/ replacement of computer and network hardware. These combinations increase the complexity dramatically, as interfaces between the various components may cause operational problems. Extensive testing of the new system is essential in this type of environment.

Even new laser printers have been known to have compatibility problems that are difficult to resolve.

Added to the factors discussed above are the normal time and budget constraints faced by most organisations. Budgets may have considered the capital costs involved with the new system implementation. Often, the additional time requirements are not

This particularly occurs in contract environments, where staff numbers have been trimmed to the extent that 'extras' cannot be accommodated. Sometimes the contract has not considered the impact of system changes. Extra costs, particularly for outsourced suppliers, may be incurred by the organisation.

System implementations can be tied to specific dates eg. the first day of the month and the start of the financial year. If these dates are missed, additional effort can be required eg. running the 'old' system, then having to transfer the same data to the 'new' system.

A typical response to all these factors could be "Do the best you can."

This approach would be detrimental to the organisation.

Poorly planned and executed system changes are normally disastrous, with loss of time, customer inconvenience, public relations problems and greater cost being common outcomes.

A planned approach is essential. It does not have to be complex, but it does need to be organised.

Well-planned projects consistently demonstrate significant time savings and cost containment because of appropriate project management.

The factors that will help guarantee success include:

Ensuring that one person is allocated responsibility for system implementation management.

Ensuring that all users are represented and all major stakeholders are included throughout the project.

That technical support (internal/external) is obtained as required.

That a detailed specification of requirements is documented and reviewed by all parties.

That related practices/procedures are reviewed to maximise opportunities for improvement.

That a plan is developed covering equipment, testing, training and implementation.

That where possible, a full testing environment is created with extensive testing of key aspects conducted.

That training is provided and initial support in the first few days is available.

That user friendly documentation is prepared and available.

That the project is reviewed and lessons learnt are documented.

A planned approach is well worth the effort. Staff need to develop skills to ensure successful implementation of technological changes. All parties should participate to ensure all aspects are considered.

Did you enjoy this article? If so, please see: HR, human capital and management newsletter articles index or subscribe directly to the High Performance Newsletter.

This article outlines the key issues involved in the implementation of new computer systems. It outlines the steps necessary to achieve success.
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Derek Stockley has worked on the implementation of ICT (Information Communication Technology) systems for many years. A current focus is the use of technology in learning (see: elearning) and website optimisation, including search engine optimisation and search engine marketing. See: SEO/SEM Optimisation.

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