Unlocking Software’s Potential

Today’s powerful systems change the way work is done. But it takes time, money and resources to ensure that an organization embraces those changes

By Abigail Kelly  

Sophisticated facility management software offers executives the ability to manage operations as never before, enabling them to track the performance of building systems and employees almost at the touch of a button. As a result, software acquisition has become a part of life. Given the scope and capabilities of today’s software options, there’s no guarantee that implementation of a new system will go smoothly. With sound planning, however, the inevitable obstacles can amount to little more than bumps on the road to a successful deployment; facility executives caught unaware, on the other hand, may find themselves up against problems that can compromise the effectiveness of a software investment.

In many cases, the key to successful implementation comes down to two words: change management. That’s a familiar and often daunting phrase for facility executives who must contend continually with the concept and all the headaches that come with it. But there’s good news, according to software industry insiders who have been through the process of software implementation: Change management is not the obstacle it once was where these projects are concerned — a shift some attribute to the increasingly pervasive role of technology in people’s lives.

“The Internet has been a real positive because people can really see the benefit of getting to know technology,” says Michael LaFleur, director of business development, Famis Software. “That change in mindset helps when it comes to bringing a new system on board.”

That shift notwithstanding, many experts still identify change management as the single biggest hurdle to a trouble-free software deployment. In large measure, that’s because introducing a new facility management system means introducing changes to people’s jobs.

“There are going to be employees who feel threatened or concerned that their value to the company may diminish once a new system is in place,” says Andy Smith, Bentley Systems’ director of professional services for the building industry.

Overcoming Resistance

One key to combating this attitude, experts say, is to reassure employees that the purpose of the software is not to replace them (assuming that is true) or to track their every move. It’s also crucial to take the time to really educate employees at all levels about the benefits the new system offers in terms of their everyday tasks.

“To get operations management to embrace the new technology, they have to really understand the benefits,” says John Johnson, senior vice president, TMA Systems. In many cases, they are being asked to do more with less or to justify their staffing, and facility management software can help them present their needs and justify their costs to top management.

Educating employees is a challenge that some organizations are tackling with creativity. One institution invited the technicians who would have to learn a new system to a free chicken dinner, at which the benefits and basics of the software were introduced. At another, the manager overseeing the implementation loaded the new hand-held devices staff would be using with games for a few weeks, giving employees an opportunity to get to know the program in a way that was fun rather than overwhelming. Solutions like these can go a long way toward reassuring the people that the new system is nothing to fear.

But where software implementation is concerned, change management likely means more than re-educating old timers who are loathe to abandon a familiar way of operating. In fact, it often means nothing short of overhauling organizational procedures.

“Sometimes companies or agencies license a new system because they want to improve their operations, but once they buy the software and sign the license, they go to great lengths to minimize disruption by doing everything they can to make software cater to their existing practices,” says Tom Mahon, senior engagement manager with MRO Software. “You run the risk of not implementing any real improvements.”

Budgeting Pitfalls

Software industry insiders like Tririga’s vice president of professional services, Mark Peterson, emphasize the importance of having a thorough discovery phase in any implementation. During this phase, existing operations and procedures are studied to help make decisions about how the new software should be configured. This process can identify the organization’s real operational improvement goals, explore changes required to move toward those goals, ensure that the software in question really suits the application and develop realistic expectations for how the new system will support the organization’s big-picture plan. This process — the first phase of implementation -— should be included when the budget for a software roll-out is developed.

“Understanding their current state and looking at questions like how they want to use their legacy information are very important steps,” says Greg Alveras, vice president, ARCHIBUS Inc. “Organizations need to make sure that they budget for that component.”

“You need to invest up front in enough discovery to understand what the issues with the implementation are going to be,” adds Sue Watkins, director of marketing with Meridian Project Systems. “That’s how you learn not only what issues you have to focus on through the implementation but what the system is really going to do and what capabilities will need to be built in or added.”

Indeed, while experts report that there are generally few surprises when it comes to the sticker price of a new software product, hidden costs can push implementation budgets over the limit if they are not projected from the start.

“Customization is typically not adequately budgeted for,” says John Clark, director of sales and marketing with SAI Associates. “So it can come as a surprise when you need to spend more to get exactly what you want.”

In addition, it is important to consider the costs associated with staff training, which can be quite significant if the training is comprehensive.

“Organizations often underestimate the lack of productivity they are going to see on the first project following an implementation,” says Bentley Systems’ Smith. “There is an expectation that these products should be Microsoft-simple — that is, install it and have it up and running in three days. Realistically, the first project is going to take a hit.”

Time for Transition

A related pitfall is underestimating the time and effort the implementation process will require — an error that not only causes frustration for facility executives but can also compromise the success of the project if an organization’s top management is unpleasantly surprised. The temptation to underestimate the work needed can be great: Six months to two years may be required to fully implement a new system, train users and convert legacy data.

“One of the big challenges we face is when people have purchased all these whistles and bells and then want it up and running immediately,” says Royle Vagle, senior consultant with TMA Systems. “Let’s crawl before we walk. Let’s not even think about a marathon yet. Don’t try to rush into it — that is a recipe for failure.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done. For overburdened middle managers and front-line employees, the pressure to complete day-to-day tasks can make learning the ins and outs of a new system feel like nothing but a hassle.

“Change typically requires a pause in progress, and many of us are unprepared to fall too far behind,” says SAI Associates’ Clark. “We see it time and again: They get the basics of the system but are too busy putting out fires to devote the time it takes to learn more advanced functions that could really add value.”

In these cases, it can be very helpful for organizational management to clearly communicate that the implementation is a priority and that it is understood that this may mean shifting focus away from other projects or day-to-day tasks.

But how can a facility executive get top-level buy-in where implementation timelines are concerned? Experts recommend designing phased implementation plans that incorporate numerous stages of success.

“If you indicate multiple steps to completion, then management can see the progress,” says ARCHIBUS’ Alveras. “Each phase represents a level of success that is immediately shared by the organization. It’s a great way to get buy-in.”

The Trouble with Technology

In any software roll-out, bugs and technology wrinkles must inevitably be smoothed out. When problems related to the technology arise, connectivity and bandwidth issues are often the culprits, particularly when the organization’s expectations for the new software are not feasible given the state of its technology or telecom infrastructure. Other common trouble spots include interoperability with legacy systems and networking problems.

User-friendly software helps eliminate many of these issues, says Jason Medal-Katz, professional services senior manager with Autodesk Collaboration Services. “Still, some software implementations can be bogged down by integration problems, the need for many internal IT resources or underestimating the user training required.”

Assuming that advance planning has eliminated the need for significant reverse engineering, however, industry insiders report that technology problems pale in comparison with the more human side of implementation management — that is, the cultural and process shifts that need to occur behind the scenes.

“I would say the most common technology-related problem is not the technology itself but the support it gets from the IT department,” says MRO Software’s Mahon. “These folks have to know that it is no different from any other enterprise implementation from their standpoint. It’s not just the facilities guys wanting to load some software.”

Leading from Within

Successful implementations often draw on a combination of internal and external resources. Most software providers can provide support that ranges from delivering on-site or Web-based training to leading comprehensive implementation audits that map existing processes, identify goals and develop plans for moving forward. Indeed, particularly where training and orientation to the new system are concerned, the vendor’s input can be critical.

“Some customers say, ‘Give me a log and a password — I want to get in and look around and kick the tires,’” says Meridian Project Systems’ Watkins. “That is often not very realistic. Software solutions are becoming more robust, and our delivery mechanisms are changing, which means that oftentimes we may want to send a team out to really walk people through it. We are moving away from a world in which we ship software in a box for the customer to figure out.”

That said, experts warn that the best outcomes result when organizations don’t just sit back and let the vendor do all the heavy lifting. Indeed, an internal training and support program can help an organization draw on the strengths of early adopters to enrich knowledge about the system throughout the organization as a whole.

“In the really successful implementations I’ve seen, they’ve usually had an internal person who was dedicated solely to the implementation,” says Famis Software’s LaFleur. “That helps tremendously.”

Clearly, there is a lot to think about when navigating a software implementation. But the good news is that advance planning and open communication — both internally and with the vendor — can eliminate most surprises along the way.

“Communication throughout the entire process is key, starting with the first sales call,” says MRO Software’s Mahon. “The expectation for the relationship and the process has to be set at that point.”

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  posted on 5/1/2004   Article Use Policy

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