The human factor: Get the users on board first

Provisioning – more about people than machines

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Workshop The ability to provision financial systems quickly, securely and effectively to users in different offices with different needs drives the perception of the IT department.

As Jon Collins recently wrote: “We may obsess about technical gubbins, but from the business user's perspective, IT is little more than a screen, keyboard and phone, and a number to call if something goes wrong. Get these bits wrong and it doesn't matter how good your storage subsystems are, people will still have a less than favourable perception... IT needs to grit its teeth and say 'the customer is always right' – however much it grates – and ensure that the user experience is as good as it can be."

Any experienced project manager will tell you that when it comes to provisioning systems, it is the users who need managing rather than the technology.

"In any installation there is never a technical problem that can't be solved," says Simon Newbon, project services director at Datel. "Any issue is always 100 per cent about managing the people."

The problems start because many system roll-outs are foisted on users by edict of upper management, which means any techie is playing to an audience whose attitude can range from uninterested to hostile.

But it need not be this way. Newbon says: "Part of the consultative service we offer is to help the customer’s users understand that they are doing this installation for themselves, rather than that it is being done to them."

His team arrived onsite, only to find there was no electrical supply to the server room

Achieving buy-in is not just a matter of soothing words – it takes hard work to transfer the right level of knowledge to end-users for them to feel confident using the system. Whether you are an independent consultant, a VAR or part of an in-house IT team, you want users to be as self-propelling as possible. When they come back to you it should be because they want to, not out of some dependency you have created.

Richard Sadler, business development director at Pinnacle Computing, calls this "the personal win" and likens it to a second round of selling. "If you don't have the personal win for each member of the team, you will be off to a bumpy start," he warns.

It is a view echoed by Leyla Blakeman, customer services director at CPiO. She reckons most of the resistance to new systems is based on fear. "People are worried because they are being asked to step outside a comfort zone they have been in for years. You have to involve them early on so they feel like they are part of the process," she says.

Sadler's team at Pinnacle form an internal steering group comprising senior management and users. At CPiO, Blakeman has a similar approach, pulling in users and making them part of the roll-out process.

"Do presentations, workshops and demos that show users you have taken their feedback into account," she advises. "Make people feel they have a say in the system, and not that it is being foisted on them."

These wise words have been learned the hard way.

For example, Newbon tells of the day his team arrived onsite to implement a Sage ERP 1000 system, only to find there was no electrical supply to the server room because building work had not been completed.

"Having to daisy-chain a series of extension leads together to install and test systems is not the best way to start a project," he says.

Learning from bad experiences is important and the question "Will power be available?" is now a feature of Datel's standard rules of engagement. One problem that could not be solved with several metres of extension cable occurred during the go-live of a Sage Line 500 and WMS solution in a three-shift company. Everything was running relatively smoothly until the third shift arrived.

"We soon discovered the third shift had not been trained. They didn't know how to use the system and everything started going wrong, which was complicated by a language barrier," recalls Newbon.

With fully integrated front- and back-office systems, there was nothing to revert to. So Datel threw eight of its people, including company directors, into the fray. They stayed on site for two weeks to train staff and deal with fallout, some putting in 48-hour shifts without sleep.

At a post-mortem meeting, Datel discovered that the customer had decided it was too expensive to include night workers in the training programme and expected night-shift team leaders to train them on the job. The bill for the rescue operation was double what training night workers would have cost.

Seasoned system integrators use such experiences to build a list of questions to ask user groups before roll-out commences.

Sadler says one customer's finance director phoned him three months after a project had gone live to query why the new process was so slow. When he sent a team to investigate, they found the user was entering all the data into the system and generating the reports to management, as specified.

"But then she was writing all the data in a book, and then retyping it into a spreadsheet," says Sadler. "She was doing the job three times."

The employee had been trained to use the book and no one had told her she didn't have to any more once the new system was in place. And the spreadsheet was being used because one of the managers didn't trust the new system.

"By proving that the old steps weren't necessary, we reduced her workload by two-thirds and the system was faster than before," says Sadler. "So now we ask the question 'Where else do you enter this info?'"

It is enough to give a techie conniptions, but it shows that getting users on side early and keeping them that way is crucial.

"You need to treat users like stakeholders," says Blakeman, "because ultimately success depends on them believing in the new system and wanting it to work." ®

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