By Tom Schoen, President, BTM Global
Any sort of enterprise technology change is daunting. Whether you’re implementing a new POS system or upgrading existing technology, the details are overwhelming, the integrations are complex and the number of decisions you need to make seem infinite. And what happens when the project is done? Are your teams up to speed on the technology and ready to fully take the reins, or are they scrambling to catch up? Worse yet, are you hit with unexpected and expensive support fees?
Your technology implementation or upgrade should end with a fizzle, not with a bang. To ensure a smooth transition, there are several things that you, as the client, and your software partner, as the technology expert, should be talking about and executing throughout the project. As someone who has worked with clients of all types over the last few decades, I’ve seen clear patterns emerge among those that experience a smooth transition and those that end the project with unexpected hurdles and delays. Let’s take a look at some of the best practices and important considerations that you and your software partner should be thinking about throughout the project.
In the beginning
A discussion about transitioning new systems from your technology partner to your internal team should be brought up at the beginning of the project discussion – not at the end or even half-way through. Talk frankly about your in-house skillset and abilities: Are you truly capable of taking on this project? How much training and guidance will you need from your partner?
An IT team’s skillset varies widely by company, but generally they are not experts in complex technology implementations. And you shouldn’t expect them to be experts: Implementations are not their primary role and are a relatively rare occurrence. Because of this, it’s very important to have an honest discussion in the beginning that walks through your IT team’s goals and what you want to happen after the technology partner has completed the project. How can the partner help set you up for success? What’s required of your team throughout the project and what training might they need to support the application for years to come?
For instance, if you haven’t chosen your application stack yet, what in-house skills do you have that can help guide your decision? If you have made the selection, is your IT team prepared to support it? If not, can your technology partner help train your team or even identify the new skillset you may need to hire?
Most importantly, if you’re not sure what questions to be asking your software partner or prospective partner, then tell them that. Watch for whether and how they help guide you through best practices and expectations, and pay attention as to whether you feel assured and confident that they are helping you based on what’s best for you, not for them.
Not many technology partners focus on the transition piece of the project early in the process, and that can cause delays and surprise support costs later. Doing your due diligence in the beginning – while you’re still vetting partners – and asking these questions not only prepares you for the actual project, but helps you get a better feel for the software partner’s culture and fit. They should take the time to answer your questions fully and help you be a smarter buyer. Implementing or upgrading software is an important but time-consuming and expensive event. Asking the tough questions and being open and honest about your capabilities will help it start out on the right foot.
During the project
Even when you’re in the trenches of a project and juggling a million things, it’s essential to know whether the knowledge transition is going well. Remember, this is something that should be happening throughout the project, not as an afterthought at the end.
Your IT team’s involvement is a key indicator. Your technology partner should be integrated with your in-house team on some level, whether that’s physically on-site sharing a space or at the very least in regular communication. If your IT team is disengaged or shut out of the process, that’s a red flag. If they need extra training or aren’t able to keep up with the project, that’s red flag. It’s not a blame game, but there are some considerations to watch for and proactively identify early if the work doesn’t seem to be clicking on all cylinders. The schedule, costs and issues must all be transparent and when stumbling blocks do come up (because they always do), your team and your partner should have enough of a trusted relationship to clear those hurdles in a collaborative way.
A business process validation is a helpful tool for supporting a smooth transition. In this scenario, your software partner takes your business users through a myriad of processes in the new application to get a clear understanding of what will take place when the app is live and what other considerations should be addressed. Data-driven systems won’t work if the data isn’t flowing correctly – for example, one cashier closing out a register incorrectly could disrupt the entire financials for that day – so understanding what’s needed to be successful and thinking about how your end-users will be trained is an important part of the knowledge transition process.
At the end
In this stage of the project, one of the most common challenges I see is when clients underestimate the change management process they have to lead within their own organization: How does the new technology affect the daily operations of the business, the IT roles, and the training needed for every level of the company? These applications are complex, and small errors – like the cashier example I gave earlier – can ripple throughout the organization. It’s important for you to identify the likely scenarios that will disrupt your processes and to work with your software partner to train your IT team to respond accordingly.
Don’t try to do everything
While your IT team should eventually be able to manage your new application on its own and master the day-to-day operations of your business, there are rarer events that may require talent outside of what you have in house. For example, a software patch or enhancement may require a specialized skillset, but it doesn’t make sense to keep someone on staff or train existing staff for an event that happens once or twice a year. In cases like these, bringing in your technology partner again can be a fast and cost-effective way to handle it because they have likely already done the same project with many other clients, and know it inside and out.
With good planning and open communication, your technology implementation or upgrade should end with a fizzle, not with a bang. While you can’t avoid the fact that an enterprise technology change will be complex, you can set yourself up to ask the right questions and vet your partner to ensure you aren’t left in the dark once the project is complete. With honest communication and a hands-on IT team, you’ll be well-equipped for a smooth transition and to support your system well into the future.
Tom Schoen is president of BTM Global, a provider of retail system integration and development services. Through strategy, development, implementation and support, BTM Global approaches each project as a partnership that helps clients become more seamless, efficient and profitable. For more information, visit www.btmglobal.com.
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