So, you have finally made the decision and set aside the funds to update a piece of software or hardware for your business. But before you go swapping cables and installing new software, you better have a solid plan in place. A well-executed plan will greatly increase your chances of success when implementing new technology in your business. A new software rolled out on the fly and sprung on your employees at the last minute is probably going to cause some serious headaches.
Helping companies implement new software and services is a big part of what we do and over the years, we’ve come up with a few steps for success, no matter the size of the implementation.
Step 1. Consult with your IT company.
Now we know it looks like a sales pitch to have this as the first step in the list but hear us out. In consulting with your IT company, you can avoid costly downtime and mistakes – and possibly help you save money.
Your IT support staff should be staying up to date on what technology is already running in your environment and what’s compatible with it. For example, if you just purchased a new accounting program and it isn’t compatible with your Line of Business software you may not be able to use it to its fullest potential. Or worse, if you purchase a new Line of Business application, and it doesn’t run on your server, you may not be able to use it at all (at least not without making costly changes).
Your IT company may also be able to help you save money by getting a better deal on licensing than you get yourself. IT companies (like us!) often work directly with distributors and manufacturers and can typically get pricing not offered to consumers. If you’re a non-profit, they can usually help you get non-profit pricing if available.
Even if you’re planning to install the software or hardware or implement the service yourself, it’s still in your best interest to you talk to your IT company – just to see if they have any tips for you. It’s likely they have installed that software or something similar before and may be aware of hiccups that you can run into and what the process is to fix these problems.
There are also some changes, like a new Internet Service Provider or new phone system, that your IT company may need to be involved in to minimize downtime. If they don’t have a heads up, it could turn what would’ve been a five-minute phone call into a three-hour fire drill down the road.
Step 2. Free Trials and Demos
Who doesn’t love free stuff? Most companies allow a free trial of products for a limited time (typically 30 days) to decide how much you like the product before you buy it. Do a free trial of the product you’re looking at to make sure it’ll work in your business. Involve members of your staff from every department who will be affected to make sure it work across your company.
Make sure you are aware exactly what version you’re trying out, though, and how it will compare with the product you’re looking to buy. Many programs a variety of licenses but only have a trial version of one. Office 365 is a good example – there are several versions of but if you do an Office 365 free trial, it’s likely the E3 plan, which is a middle of the road plan. If you try E3 and end up buying a lower level license, you may not get some of the same features you used during the trial. (If you are trying Office 365, we’ve written a blog post about things to try out during your trial that may be helpful. Read that here).
Step 3. Communication Plan
This one often gets overlooked. Having a communication plan both for internal employees and external vendors. If the change will directly affect customers, you’ll need to have another plan for them, too. These should be sent out several times before the change is implemented – usually a month in advance, twice a week before and then the day before and the day of with updates as needed.
These communications should include what the change is, how it affects departments and when each department will be changed, and how to use the new product. This eliminates a lot of confusion and downtime. This is especially important if there are outside vendors that access your network that will need to change their process for accessing your network.
Step 4. Staged Deployment
In a staged deployment, the update or change is performed one department at a time. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible to do based on the nature of the change, but if you can do a staged deployment, we recommend it.
Doing a staged deployment allows you to find any problems with the changes in smaller groups as opposed to having a flood of problems coming in to troubleshoot all at once.
This typically works best in a larger environment where there are just too many people to roll a change out to everyone simultaneously. If you’re a very small company, it may not be necessary.
Step 5. Training
This is another critical area that often gets overlooked or gotten, especially in a complete change of a product. Staff training on the new software could make or break you, though. After all, what good is new technology if your employees don’t know how to use it?
If you purchase a new piece of software from a vendor (or through your IT company), ask about in-house training. Buy lunch for the team and bring the vendor in to do training on how to use the new product. This should get your staff running faster on the new product and reduce the number of questions and downtime.
Step 6. Post Implementation Support
Before anything is signed and install, ensure that you have post implementation support (in writing, as part of your contract) for your new technology. You as the customer should have some level of control over how long you get post-implementation support. Sometimes it takes a while for problems to arise with new installations and you don’t want to be a month down the line and find a major problem and not have a way to get it resolved.
Step 7. Debrief with key staff members
After your new system is up and running, hold a debriefing meeting with key members of your staff. Discuss what worked and what didn’t work in the implementation. Keep documentation of this so next time you have a new system to implement, you can set yourself up for success from the beginning. This is another step that often gets overlooked, but should really be part of your plan, otherwise, you run the risk of making the same mistakes again.
Even the best-laid plans can go awry, but having a well thought out and well-executed plan can make the process of implementing new technology much smoother. Even if you’re making the changes yourself, we encourage you to reach out to your IT company even if it’s just to get another set of eyes on your plan. It can help save you headaches – and money – down the line.