Complex systems – what makes for a successful implementation?

The decision-making process for purchasing a new complex system can be long and complex itself, as organisations research new and better ways to undertake their business.

Having made the buying decision, the implementation of the new solution is equally critical – getting it right means quickly reaping the benefits of a smarter way of working and increasing ROI. This requires planning ahead so that the new solution doesn’t cause headaches before it’s even used. These are our tips, based on real-world experience, on getting it right.

1. Define the scope of the overall project
It is important to identify what needs to be achieved; the things that will deliver real business benefit rather than replicating what is already in place. This avoids running into issues later down the line, from a misinterpretation of how much time it will take to take to understanding whether what was promised has been delivered.

It is key to take a business process, rather than functional, perspective to prevent silos of information and knowledge being built that do not benefit from the integration of the end-to-end process.

2. Ensure stakeholder involvement
Buy-in from the main stakeholders is key, and it is important that they recognise that it is a business system, not an IT one, that is being implemented. Equally key is an understanding that the system in itself does not equate to business benefits; these are only derived from correct use of it in the right context.

Having identified stakeholders (from senior employees to key users) they need to be included in an organisation change management process that is underpinned by a robust communications strategy.

3. Check resources
The amount of time required for implementation is usually greater than the capability of the organisation’s existing resource.

This requires that, ahead of the implementation, the business must look at how to ensure it has enough resource (both in terms of time and the right expertise), for the project and that it has the necessary partnerships in place with the organisations that will help it deliver the end result. Employees must have time specifically dedicated to the project, rather than trying to complete it along with existing workloads.

4. Take a holistic approach
Any other business strategies being followed – from the launch of a new project to the acquisition of another company – need to be factored in to the implementation of the new system. This ensures that the end result is fit for purpose, and future proof.

5. Measure results throughout the project lifecycle
Check points throughout the project allow achievements to be measured against the original KPIs, and anything unexpected to be dealt with before it becomes a real problem.

6. Insist on transparency
Transparency from an internal or external audit perspective is required, with nothing hidden from either party, whether that is progress to date or completion forecasts.

This allows everyone involved to have the same understanding of the status of the project; there are no surprises and all teams are given the opportunity to provide the right level of support throughout the implementation.

7. Manage data
All new systems have mandatory data requirements, such as specific fields in a customer master record. However, it is highly likely that there will be significant discrepancies between what exists within the legacy system and the demands of the new solution being implemented.

Data migration, rather than the technology implementation itself, is typically where complex projects fail. It is essential therefore to understand the data requirements of the new system from early on in the process in order that there is enough time to clean the legacy data and ensure that the new system is fit for purpose from day one.

8. Select an appropriate partner
It’s important to understand what is required of the implementation partner and why, and that they have the right people and processes to meet these criteria. Ensuring a partner has the prerequisite skills can be determined by customer references, personal conversations with key people who will work on the project, as well as careful examination of the methodologies and approach that will be used.

Skill and creativity should not be confused with project execution, so partners must have a track record of delivering. Again references are key, as well as a commercial model that rewards success and encourages successful delivery.

Finally, the cultural fit of a partner is important. New systems do not deliver business benefits in a vacuum – they require a good working relationship between all parties involved in implementing them. A unified team will always deliver better results than a divided one.

9. Celebrate success
Recognising the stakeholders, those involved in the project, and that the business is a better place as a result is important and ensures the expected benefits have been achieved. This requires that there is a clear picture of what good looks like.

Organisations that plan for project success are rewarded with systems that help their operations to be less expensive and more efficient, while focusing on customer need. In other words, a smooth implementation is a integral part of ensuring that a business simply ‘runs better’.

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