The end of the year is fast approaching and there is no better time to give your company the gift of greater efficiency with business process software. But, it’s easier said than done, with some of the biggest barriers to a successful implementation being:
- Lack of top management commitment
- Unrealistic timelines
- Ineffective communication
And those are just a few. In order to succeed, it is important to fast-track a successful plan based on establishing a solid foundation of people, process and planning.
Here are 5 key areas you need to address for year-end success:
Empower teams and gain buy-in.
Nothing derails a software implementation like users who hate a new piece of software because they a) didn’t have any input in the process and b) were not consulted about how to make their daily tasks more efficient.
Get the right people to help develop cross-functional business requirements and system configurations. Develop an interdisciplinary team to represent those working with the software on a day-to-day basis and empower them to make decisions about its implementation, use and deployment. In addition, have the team research cloud-based and traditional on-site software systems to see what the ideal fit is with your current technology and short/long-term technology budgets and goals.
By developing a team of subject area experts, you can ensure that vendors are made aware of the current challenges you face, and can help you focus on an implementation structure that solves your issues and satisfies employees with relevant, efficient functionality, as well.
Focus on the must-haves.
Just as kids’ holiday wish lists can go from “I just want some new Legos” to “I need the Lego’s Ultimate Collector’s Millennium Falcon (retailing at $4,800 – gulp)” – you need to manage scope creep. Implementing every imaginable bell and whistle from a new piece of software just isn’t practical, and can be cost-prohibitive.
Develop a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves. In order to implement in a short time frame, you will need to focus on the must-haves first. Many projects derail when the initial scope is expanded to include everything but the kitchen sink.
Talk to your software vendors about what is realistic in your time frame, and which next steps can wait six months to a year. Most importantly, don’t recreate old inefficiencies with new software. Review your current workflows and find areas for improvement.
When automating business processes, many of the old ways of working will need to make way for new ways of looking at what information you want to get out of a system and designing your data input to reflect that.
Create a few “best practices” that you can implement with the new software. Once you are up-and-running and employees get more comfortable with the system, you can incorporate additional shortcuts and functions, reporting, and possibly rollout the software to more departments, users and geographic locations.
Develop a concise project plan.
Let’s face it. We have all been in situations where a well-thought out plan hits a road bump and the project falls apart. When dealing with a short software implementation timeframe there is little room for error – you need to eat, sleep and breathe your project plan.
Start simple. Most software vendors will have a high-level implementation timeline for you based on your current hardware/software, business/team size and other resources. With your interdisciplinary plan in place, you can discuss how entering in one field on a screen can affect accounting and marketing all the way to a quarterly board report. Making sure you have input from each department that will utilize the software is critical to project planning.
You will need to make sure you manage expectations, as well. Setting a “Go Live” date with weekly milestones is a good way to ensure you are on the right track. Weekly project update conference calls don’t need to be painful. Limit the discussion to a set time frame, have each team report on successes and roadblocks, and make any necessary schedule adjustments, so there are no surprises in project costs or functionality.
Testing is critical and can’t be stressed enough. Every project plan needs ample time for adequate testing of a new system. Running parallel reports, checking and double checking against your current system and getting approvals from all parties is important in ensuring you can “pull the plug” on your old system and move forward.
Convert, Configure & Customize
Identify areas for greatest business impact.
There is a big difference between converting data, configuring software and customizing software. Know the difference – and save yourself time. Converting data means taking your legacy data – whether on paper or in a file format from another program and converting it into data the new system can use.
For example, if you are moving from a paper-based AP system to an automated AP system, you would convert paper invoices to electronic. Which files need to be converted, and which do you no longer need? You must determine what is most useful, particularly if you are looking to implement quickly. Many people want to “hold on” to legacy data – even if it isn’t useful. Determine a cut-off for conversions and stick to it to save time and money.
Configuring software includes the basic set-up features that a software vendor will utilize to get it up and running for you. For example, your company address, phones, email, and account data – these are all considered configuration. Supply this information to your vendor when requested as it takes time to upload and configure any new software. Or, if you need to do the configuration on your end, make sure you are thorough and set aside enough time to complete.
Customization is when a vendor offers you the chance to design elements custom to your organization – whether it is an interface with another system or a set of reports that are unique to you. These customizations take time, and not all software products offer customization.
Discuss with your vendor sections of the system you can customize that are simple and cost-effective for your organization to make it the most useful for you. Not soup to nuts here, but what areas can have the greatest business impact in the shortest time? Maybe the integration of two systems will save you time, or maybe customizing forms to upload into your new software so they are easily categorized, searchable and easy to share will make the most sense. Whatever the case, start simple and add additional wish list customizations later.
Reward teams for implementation success.
Adding on more work to your teams may not be met with boundless enthusiasm. Successful deployment is usually determined by how much buy-in employees have to a new system and how well users have been trained. Help motivate employees to get the project done with small and large incentives.
Training employees on new software can be a challenge. Realistically, learning a new system will require completion of existing tasks, as well as spending additional hours entering data or learning a new system (entering legacy data can be the best way to learn a new system). As it can take a while for users to feel comfortable, helping employees with a “train-the-trainer” approach and establishing internal “experts” can be useful. These experts can be a first line defense as issues and questions arise, without having to call Customer Support.
Once up and running, your “super-users” will naturally be the ones employees will go to with support questions, and these are often the people that can help “sell” the software internally to other departments or geographic locations. They can also be a great resource for training new employees and helping to keep the software alive during turnover.
Whatever your goals for the end of the year, if you are thinking about getting new software off the ground, there is no better time than the present. After all, would you rather start 2015 and have a strong foothold into your project, or keep putting it off for another day?
About the Author: Jeff Frankel is Executive Vice President and Principal at docSTAR, a B2B software firm specializing in cloud document management solutions and business process automation. He has more than two decades experience in corporate business development, working with industry-leading firms including Authentidate Holding Corp, Med-Flash, Health Focus of NY, and Ernst & Young. Jeff offers innovative perspectives on streamlining business for improved efficiency and productivity. You can follow Jeff and the docSTAR team on Twitter, @docSTARsoftware.
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