Have you ever heard someone say: “I just bought this new program, but it has caused more problems that it has solved!” or “I just installed this new application, but no one in the organization is using it!” If so, you are hearing a recurring complaint of many business owners and managers. So why is it that the introduction of expensive new technology so frequently fails to work out? We believe it is because of a common misconception that merely purchasing and installing a new system will make a business or department run better. We believe that it takes thoughtful planning to implement new technology successfully. New technology can produce tremendous benefits for a company or department—gains in efficiency, productivity, customer satisfaction and profitability are but a few. But in order to optimize these benefits, the following are among the issues that need to be considered carefully and creatively before beginning the process of implementation or development of a new system:
- What are your objectives for your new system? Which aspects of your business do you intend to make more productive, effective or streamlined?
- How do you select or design your new system to meet current needs and to allow for anticipated changes and growth?
- Will aspects of the new system require changes in other systems or processes? Also important is the question of whether aspects of the new system will enable you to make changes in other processes or systems to enhance their efficiency?
- How will you pay for the new system? How will the system be implemented in a way that permits maximum return on your investment?
- How do you get employee buy-in?
Consider the following when addressing the foregoing questions:
Objectives: Clear the Way
If you are clear about your objectives for your new system, you are well on your way to a successful implementation. You should identify the changes you expect your new system to produce. If you want to make work more efficient, make your product better, improve customer service, whatever you want to do, use your new system to help your organization reach new levels of success.
Implementing new technology should be done thoughtfully with a lasting purpose and an eye for change. If you only want to do business the way you’ve always done it, an investment in expensive new technology may not make sense.
Selecting a System: What to Consider
You will need to assess your new system for compatibility, scalability and flexibility. You will need to choose a system that is proven in its functionality and one that will complement your existing systems well. Scalability describes a system that can grow with and adapt with you and beyond your current expectations. The final requirement is that your system be flexible. This is where you take another look at your objectives to be sure that you have anticipated some of the changes you will need to make down the line, then evaluate whether this system will help you to get there. That said, it is nearly impossible to anticipate all changes you will want. You should know that a complex system that will run your organization will never be finished, but will be continually improved upon until it is replaced.
System Changes: Take the Opportunity
Before the new system is implemented, determine the changes that you will need to make to other internal systems and processes in order for the new system to work. The time you spend re-engineering your internal processes will leverage your new investment into profitability sooner. Moreover, rather than viewing new technology merely as a solution to a business problem, you may want to take the opportunity to create new processes for your business using the catalyst of your new system.
Successful companies use systems as a means to “re-invent” their processes. It is very easy for us to be blinded to what can be done to improve a process. How many times have you heard someone say, “If I were starting this business from scratch, I would…” Use the opportunity that a new system brings not only to think outside the box, but to throw away the box and think, idealistically, about what the process should be.
The reality is that you need a system that helps you work the way that you are supposed to: in a manner that is efficient, cost effective, and productive. When you re-invent your internal processes rather than expect your system to do it for you, your company will benefit with positive results in productivity, enhanced morale and creativity.
Return on Investment: Make it Pay Off
A new system should ultimately pay for itself. Determine how the system you have chosen will do that. Optimally, you can expect a system to start paying off immediately. Here’s how to get started: Pick one team, one department, one process to improve that will have the biggest impact on your organization and use the new system to make it better. Automate one internal process, quantify the time, efficiency and productivity savings, and then implement it. Correct any inefficiency or other glitch right from the start and you’ve already started down the path of a healthy return on your investment. Let this first process be the catalyst to improve additional bottlenecks within your organization. The key is to not stop with the first process. Allow it to spread to other processes, teams, departments, locations, etc. and watch those soft dollars roll in. Plan on how your various departments will interface with the system, but stay focused on your immediate goal. As long as the appropriate interfaces exist or are available within your system, why worry or pay for them now? Chances are that the way you think today about how the interfaces will work won’t be true once your internal processes have evolved to accommodate the new system.
Change: Getting Your People On Board
Working with a new system will require an adjustment for everyone. As with most types of changes in an organization, this one is handled best by giving people information. You may consider having presentations on the reasons why you decided to acquire new technology, what some of the other options were and why this solution won out. Tell your staff about the benefits you expect from the technology, such as gains in efficiency and productivity, improved bottom line, improvements in their work life, etc. Demonstrate how the new system works. Run it side by side with your existing system to show the differences. Allow your employees to get a detailed idea of the new system and give them the chance to give you feedback on improvements prior to implementation. Also, provide adequate training for your people prior to the date they must use it. How you convey the necessary information to your staff will vary by organization, but it is vital to give it to them in some form in order to achieve a smooth implementation. Your managers in particular will have to be on board to be sure everyone can use and will use the new system.
The foregoing discussion is intended as a blueprint of issues that should be considered in order to increase your chances for a successful systems implementation. When you implement technology for business’ sake rather than technology’s sake, your company is more competitive, your workforce is more engaged, and your profitability will increase. The best technological solution for your business is the one that you implement thoughtfully.