In the last two issues, Business Buyers Guide gave you advice on the best way to choose your IT supplier and how to win your board's support. In the third part of this feature, we guide you through the minefield of actually setting up and running your new IT system.
To enure the job goes smoothly, it is vital you make careful plans and do not allow events to overtake you.
Successful implementation is a combination of two sciences: change management and project management. Both demand a balance between the expectations of users and the board; the risks and possible negative results; and the realities of the incoming and outgoing technologies.
These are offset against time, cost and performance, which are usually fixed factors. And just to add some spice to the mixture, there is the matter of people's resistance to change. An unknown element, this may be hidden or denied, but can be deeply entrenched within individual staff members or even departments as a whole.
Implementation can be divided into three parts: pre-system, actual system introduction, post-introduction integration and takeover from the old IT. Before you start the process, you should anticipate all the possible problems that might arise at each stage, and devise strategies for dealing with them.
There are three essential starting points to implementing a new IT system.
The first stage is to realise your own limitations, and delegate where necessary. Second, you should get to know and understand users, their fears and training needs. And third, you should make sure the specification for your requirements is precise and unambiguous.
It is a good idea for users to see how the new IT system works before it is implemented. You can arrange to visit a company which is using the system you are considering for some hands-on experience. This site visit will also help users think through what they really want out of the new equipment and software.
Users should be given plenty of warning about the introduction of new hardware, so they can prepare themselves. New hardware often brings with it office upheaval, especially if there is cabling to be installed. Implementation usually involves a new system taking over an old one and, even if it will make their job easier, users may resent this, feeling more comfortable with the old familiar system.
The introduction of new hardware should be quickly followed by a formal and individual training programme, and a clear support infrastructure.
One of the keys to successful IT implementation is thorough staff training, which should include a degree of coaching and mentoring. Ideally, you should start the training programme before the new system is in place, so users feel confident and competent before its arrival.
It is also essential to have regular meetings to update staff on the project. This will give them the opportunity to ask questions and discuss potential problems.
A newly-installed system should be thoroughly tested before users are allowed to use it. Indeed, testing should be part of the contractual arrangements, and should cover all possible eventualities.
Once the system is installed, it doesn't mean it can never be changed.
Installation is the result of a detailed strategic analysis, and is also the beginning of a long process of fine-tuning and development. When staff get used to the system, you may well find that their requirements change, and a structured approach will be able to accommodate these changing needs.
If your project starts to run late, don't be afraid to reschedule and assign new deadlines. Don't be pressurised into imposing another unworkable timescale. It may be best to leave some of the new system's non-critical functions to be implemented at a later stage, after the system proper is up and running smoothly.
Another alternative is to bring in consultants to help, although many IT managers claim it is better to extend the deadline or reduce the immediate expectations.
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