Tanya Pepin outlines what wholesalers need to know to make new IT systems work.
When IT installations go wrong, it can disrupt the business for months and destroy trust in the system for even longer. That is before you consider the costs added by project over-runs and distracted staff. Therefore, it is vital to follow a process that will mitigate risks. Once you have the right team, follow this checklist:
Work out a budget and a contingency: There might be over-runs or extras you discover you need along the way. Plan for this at the outset.
Involve the whole business: Build a team from across the business who will be involved in the project from requirements through to roll-out. This helps with buy-in but also ensures that the new system caters for everyone’s requirements. Ensure this team is headed up with someone trusted by senior management and empowered to make decisions.
Locate a provider: This relationship will be pivotal to the success of the implementation. Ensure that it can work within your budget, has a proven track record (speak to other customers) and that you can build a good working relationship with it.
Develop a requirements document: This will be key in achieving a realistic timeframe and hitting your budget. Expect this process to take some time and try not to rush it – time spent planning now will be paid back later. Your IT provider should assist you.
Keep it simple: Has the developer been through your specification and highlighted anything that is not technically possible or that could be simplified to save time and money? Some requirements sound great but can slow a system down.
Invest in the right platform: Ensure that you have the right hardware and hosting in place for your new system – the specification process will make this fairly straightforward.
Plan to connect: If the new system needs to connect to existing systems, ensure that this is achievable. Meet with the people who support these systems at this stage to plan how the connections will be made. Document this so that it is clear and accountable.
Determine how the system will affect people’s roles: Plan how processes and resources might need to change and prepare for this.
Meet regularly: Build a project plan, assign roles to your staff team and agree realistic timescales. Intrinsic to this plan should be regular meetings with your development team as well as milestones for deliverables.
See the user interface as it is developed: This way, it is easier to tweak if it is not working how you expected. If you wait until it is fully developed, it can be set in stone and difficult to adjust.
Test your database: If your system has a database, test accessing data from it. If it is slow, establish why and whether it can be sped up.
Create a team for user testing: This should include staff who will be using it when it goes live. Ensure it meets their functional needs. Users can be averse to change so add testers who have not previously been involved in the task to gain a balanced perspective.
Test in parallel: Plan the roll out so that there is a period of using the new system in the background – only go live when you have thoroughly tested it.
This list does not include how to manage costs but it does help to mitigate the risk of costs escalating. Each provider will have its own approach to charging, but in my experience, the safest route to go is fixed cost development supported by regular dialogue to minimise debates about extras. A good provider will warn you in advance if you are at risk of going over budget and give you the chance to prevent it from happening. Be open at the outset with your provider and agree a charging structure with which you are comfortable.