Why don’t our technologies get used?

One of the unfortunate truths in the IT industry is that IT systems get implemented by technical teams. If the change is well managed the organisation can find productivity gains and motivation that drives massive benefit to the business’s bottom line.

 

Or, as happens all too often, some of the staff don’t cope with the new system, resulting in the need for new staff to drive the advantages of the change, with a high cost of staff churn.

However, there is another scenario that leads to even higher costs and no step forward. This is when the system goes live, and people simply don’t adopt it and use it.

So, what should small businesses do to minimise the damage caused by poor change management?

  • Careful planning to align IT with business objectives before implementing new IT systems is critical.
  • Involving the entire team of people who will work with the system will improve the likelihood of success.
  • Understanding and planning for change management as part of the process will help.
  • Wherever trials of the tools are available, run them. And, have a plan for the trials to ensure they mimic real life.
  • Be committed to changing work processes to gain the benefits of the new system. Plan the change as part of the implementation.
  • Provide ample training just before, and well after, implementation.

There are other key messages and cautions around application selection, but they are for another day. Here I want to focus on the human factor of uptake of new systems.

What we don’t want to do is spend our money implementing new systems to find the staff won’t, or can’t, use them.

Understand why you are changing the system as this will inform your plan – and ensure you are in the right mindset for change. Simply replacing a system that sits behind a job role without improving work flow and process may improve productivity slightly, but redesigning the job around new capabilities in the system could significantly improve the return on investment.

To get your staff excited about using the new system, get more of them involved in testing phases and selection phases to give them the opportunity to use the new application features. If you leave your people out of the process and then hit them with a big change when you go live, you can expect significant resistance and lots of stress. After years of using a system, many of your workers will do their work like a robot. No matter how good the new system is, it will involve re-learning old skills and this will lead to frustration in the first few weeks.

So running trials and having a significant number of your staff do a proof-of-concept will encourage the staff to feel like they’ve been involved in the decision. Also, it will show up faults, limitations and restrictions before significant investment has been made.

IT departments rarely contain a psychologist, especially not a change management expert, so the human factors are usually glossed over or completely forgotten. The best IT system implementation teams in large organisations have a change management expert on board as it is known that managing the process well will lead to better outcomes. In small business, we can’t have such a diverse team and so it’s up to the business leaders to do the thinking for the tech team, and make sure some change management principles have been considered.

Trial applications are not always possible as the platforms need to be built before they can be run. Cloud computing is changing this and products such as Office 365 or Dynamics CRM from Microsoft offer trial accounts. If you can’t run a trial, try to visit a business already using the tool.

Write a plan for your trial. Just looking at a few screens containing data or reports will not inform you of the functionality or user experience of the application. It’s best to design a test that will demonstrate the key functions you will use – this will give you more value out of your test phase. If the testing is too hard or stressful, who will implementation work for you?

Changing work processes is not a trivial activity but it is interesting to see the inefficiencies that we have built into our work practice. We had a classic redesign recently. When our business was only a few people, there was a rule that any ringing phone had to be answered within three rings – by whoever was free. The rule was still silently in place after we grew to 25 staff. Clearly, having the finance team answering calls for the help desk was not ideal so a better process was required. There are lots of ways to improve work flow and process but it takes an active eye and mind to change. The time we change our software tools is ideal for adopting new work flow rules and practices to ensure productivity is improved. Running a few workshops around the implementation of the new tools may have a far reaching impact.

Once you have made use of your team in redesigning the processes and getting the new tools implemented, it’s essential that suitable levels of communication and training happen to ensure the team is empowered to use the new tools. Training just before, and a little while after, implementation tends to work well – talk to training experts to ensure you get the most out of your new applications.

There is no guarantee that the new systems will go in well and be accepted, but if you really think in terms of managing the change, not just the technology, your odds will improve significantly.

Good luck with your improvements; I really hope it’s the best possible experience for your staff and business, and that the upgrade is as good as it can be.

Click here to read more IT Systems expert advice.

David Markus is the founder of Combo – the IT services company that ensures IT is never an impediment to growth.

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