Preparation is Half the Battle: Four Factors for Successful Retail Technology Implementation
by Tom Schoen, president, BTM Global
Undertaking any sort of enterprise technology implementation is a huge effort, and just as important as the implementation itself is how you prepare for it. From the thoroughness of your plans, to educating and prepping your teams, to transitioning the project upon completion, preparation is really half of the battle when it comes to a technology implementation. And while no self-respecting company goes into an implementation completely naïve, there are certainly common best practices I’ve seen that usually lead to more successful outcomes.
First, define success
It sounds basic, even too simple, but it’s surprising how many companies struggle with this. Does a successful implementation just mean sticking to the budget and timeline? Adding new capabilities to your stores or corporate systems? Are you aiming for certain metrics around employee training or adoption rates?
Knowing what your project goals are – beyond the technical specifications – will help you and your technology partner put together an implementation plan that approaches the project from a business perspective. The goals should address your broader business objectives and not just be a series of items to check off a list.
Be realistic and plan accordingly
This means being realistic from a cost, schedule and resource perspective. From start to finish – the precursor components through the project transition – identify the project deliverables and the corresponding roles and responsibilities of each team member. By clearly delineating these, you set the stage for more transparent work among your own team and with your technology partner, which ultimately leads to a more successful project.
Next, identify the known risks and think through how you’re going to mitigate them and control the scope and effort of the project. This will help minimize the number of surprises that may come up during a technology implementation and work through them faster.
It’s also critical that you take a clear-eyed view of your teams’ skillsets and be realistic about what you can support internally and where you have to engage a partner to fill the gaps. This includes not only managing the day-to-day needs of your implementation, but executing the employee training required to operationalize the technology.
Dedicate a team to the job
I know this recommendation is a tough one. Everyone has their day jobs and other roles, but a dedicated, full-time team will lead to more success and fewer surprises, and enable closer relationships with the technology partner. A consistent, full-time team can support a collaborative culture that will tackle challenges more efficiently than siloed teams. It also helps smooth the transition after the implementation is complete.
If this technology implementation is truly a priority for your organization, then at the very least you should dedicate a champion or owner for the project – perhaps someone who already owns IT, security or finance – to oversee coordination that needs to happen. And this includes driving the project, not just managing it. Whether this is an internal individual or your external technology partner, a driver will keep the implementation moving forward, keep all parties in close communication, and ultimately help the teams navigate to successful completion. Without a champion/driver, you risk confusion and inefficiencies that could lead to missed deadlines and added costs.
A business sponsor is also important; an executive from the business side who ensures the project stays in line with the high-level business objectives. The sponsor also communicates with and advocates to the steering committee or other executives, depending on the structure of your organization. The business sponsor or the champion should also ensure that every department of the company is receiving consistent communications about the project to support transparency and manage expectations.
Managing the change
The project isn’t complete once the technology is up and running. Now, that system knowledge must be transferred from your technology partner to your internal IT team. You should have a good understanding of what it takes to operationalize the technology and the training necessary throughout every level of the company.
A technology transition usually brings with it a lot of change, so it’s critical that communications are managed carefully and transparently. Ensure your champion, business sponsor, or another lead individual is communicating to all parties throughout the project (not just at the end when everything’s completed). Broaden your focus beyond the IT team and think about the messages needed for administrators, end users and others. Don’t solely focus on the technical project details; communicate why the change is exciting for the company and especially for their role. Reinforce how their responsibilities will specifically be more efficient, accurate or faster because of the improvements.
Not sure where to start?
You may understand what you need to do, but knowing how and where to take that first step can be complicated by many factors. If you’re not sure where to start, a third-party technology partner can analyze your current state, identify risk areas, and provide guidance on how to best address them. Solid implementation planning will provide the framework and confidence for your teams to tackle the project and ensure its success.
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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