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Is your institution behind the times? Maybe the systems and processes you’ve relied upon for years are no longer sufficient for their tasks.

Updating entrenched systems can look as complicated as taking someone from the Dark Ages to the Information Age. But we’re not talking about time travel here — just a way to bring your processes into the present and reach your goals, without losing your staff or mind in the process.

If you’re ready for a change and actively looking for new solutions, what follows are some simple steps to help you not only get caught up, but ahead of the game.

As an Implementation Consultant, I regularly assist clients as they make the quantum leap from paper-based business processes to more efficient electronic solutions. Together, we develop better business practices and leave behind outdated, time-consuming, error-prone, duplicative tasks and paperwork.

That first quantum leap is a doozy, but there are things you can do to prepare and make the transition more manageable and less risky. Based on my experience, here are eight crucial steps you need to take to prepare your institution for success in the 21st century.

1) Be ready to make your case to everyone

You need to have all your best reasons for seeking a new business system at the readyCollect examples of “pain points” by asking yourself pointed questions:

  • Do we use an unreliable database platform or one that’s no longer supported?
  • Do only one or two staff members know how to fix our platform if it fails?
  • Are we having trouble getting individuals to approve documents in a timely manner, because paperwork is sitting unsigned on a desk where no one can find it?
  • Are we unable to keep up with the internal and external reporting requirements because of our current method of record-keeping?

Once you’ve listed your pain points, you’re ready to state your case for change and improvements, whether it means seeking funds and approval from upper management, or preparing staff for the implementation process ahead.

 2) Thoroughly evaluate your current business processes and tools.

Decide what needs to go, what could stay, and what should definitely change while remaining as neutral as possible. Just because current systems are no longer sufficient doesn’t mean they were always wrong. If you need to review the historical context of your current situation, keep it brief. Don’t seek to place blame. Instead, focus on meeting current challenges with solutions for a more productive and efficient future. No need to get defensive or attached to old business processes. Stay objective and be willing to start with a clean slate if necessary. Remember that the goal is to improve the daily workflow for everyone.

3) Be ambitious yet realistic in setting new project goals.

As the late, great announcer Casey Kasem used to say, “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars!” Remain open-minded when researching enterprise-level electronic solutions (if that’s what you’re seeking). Don’t limit yourself by thinking you couldn’t possibly make (or afford) such a huge leap forward. Plan for the best long-term, sustainable solution, but understand it may not happen all at once.

4) Win over potential champions and naysayers.

Involve members from each of these groups selectively throughout the process. There may be distinct camps within your institution, each with varying degrees of power and influence. For academic institutions, fans and foes can likely be found within faculty groups, Chairs, Deans, and in the Accounting and IT departments.

Map out the playing field, then make contact with people in these groups to inform them of upcoming changes. A few individual discussions with allies and antagonists alike will help you spread the word informally, versus a large group meeting or email, which could take people by surprise and cause unnecessary alarm. Use your pain points as a starting point for discussion, and seek input/support as you lay out your plans for a better future. Clearly outline your parameters for appropriate feedback in order to maintain control of the direction and scope of the project.

5) Plan an institution-wide information campaign far in advance.

Start small with a simple preview of the planned change to a new advanced business system. Take advantage of any regular newsletter or interdepartmental meetings to mention the planned overhaul of current business processes. Let everyone know that further details will be released in the coming months. Meet with key administrators and staff to familiarize them with upcoming changes.

6) Decide early on a firm rollout date or staggered release.

While there are benefits to each method of rollout, you’ll need to decide what will work best for your particular institution. Whichever way you go, schedule the rollout to minimize disruption, especially around annual fiscal year closings, reports, and the like. There may not be an ideal time for such a change, but find the best possible window of opportunity. If you can plot out a one- to two-month period for your “go-live” date, you’ll be in good shape. Avoid scheduling project-completion dates right before or after major institutional deadlines or holidays.

7) Be transparent and consistent about upcoming changes — with everyone.

If you only tell an upper-level management group about the drawbacks as well as the benefits of your new system, but tell the rest of your institution only the pros, or just a subset of the cons, then you can bet that everyone will eventually find out and become skeptical. It’s rare that any system can satisfy everyone 100%, but if you are upfront about your case and explain why the positives outweigh the negatives, you can win over your critics and prevent mutiny. Keep collecting feedback, however, and give it due consideration as best you can. Be sure to convey any “wish lists” of feature enhancements to the appropriate groups (internal and/or at the vendor). Report progress back to your staff and institution regularly, while setting expectations on what is possible or not at this time. Thank them for their constructive participation.

8) Assemble your best project team, and prepare to work hard!

Use skilled people for your core project team, starting with your strongest staff members. Include a member from each of the other key groups whose input you’ll need to make the new systems successful.

NOTE: Be sure (and I cannot stress this enough) to include a handful of front-line end-users in your implementation process, starting from the beginning.

If your project team consists only of high-level administrators who will rarely use the new system, you risk missing the mark. Create an estimate (ask your Implementation Specialist to help!) showing exactly how many hours each of your project team members will likely put in during the implementation process, so this project time can be factored into their schedules. Along the way, check in with each team member to be sure they’re able to participate fully. Shift staff workload temporarily, if necessary, to handle the additional project tasks involved.

Keep these key steps in mind during the process of implementing major change at your institution and you’ll be able to make the transition into the modern age of business more smoothly.

Have you used any team- or momentum-building techniques yourself? Share your comments about other ways to ensure success when modernizing work processes and/or systems and tools.

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