18/10/10

By Claire West

Imagine you are a senior operational manager. It’s almost a year since you cut over to a new system, and the executive team is asking for an update on the business case — how’s it going with the faster / bigger / better targets that were set?

You’re tempted to pick up the phone to the IT team, but they formally handed the system over to you several months ago, and they’re all now busy elsewhere.

It’s all down to you... and that’s how it should be. Business managers need to own the systems they use and the benefits they deliver. It’s a mistake to think that the project ends when the technical people move on. Post-implementation is where the real opportunity for releasing value lies.

Finding out where the value is
So where do you look to confirm you’re delivering what you expected? You could look at financial measures maybe, or at indicators in risk management or levels of customer service. Innovation and change consulting firm, Ignite, believes that the answer can only be provided by the people who use the system (in one way or another). “Talking to users post project is rarely done and that’s a pity,” says Fiona Zealley, Ignite Senior Consultant. “Those people are like gold dust if you truly want to identify and understand the opportunities to squeeze all the value out of the investment you’ve made”.

Ignite encourages involving customers, suppliers and anyone who provides inputs to the system (such as data and information) or uses its outputs (such as pricing or reports).

“Really stretching people to think about how they can maximise utility is at the heart of what we call value from technology,” says Fiona. “It’s not a post-implementation review, but an engaging exercise that helps you find ways to fully exploit the value of your investment. It’s a great way to keep people thinking about continuous improvement and quality, whether you’ve delivered your original targets or not.”

So how does your business look post implementation?

You might be delighted with the way it’s going. The financial numbers stack up and customers are happy. But do you know if you’re getting all the value you might? Where can you improve and how can how can you tap into the ideas that users no doubt have for improvements?

Alternatively, you may be hearing lots of noise — “it takes longer” or “I can’t find the information I need”. In this situation, the business case may be at risk and you could be facing difficult questions from the executive team.

If you are in either of these places — or both — now is the time to engage that group of stakeholders who use and work with the system. Fiona explains how during her time with Ignite she has seen too many organisations fall short of this, “We’ve seen clients pour hundreds of thousands of pounds into implementation” she explains, “and then, once the platform is in place, they seem reluctant or unable to devote the energy and time into the crucial next phase.

Fiona explains some of the ways Ignite ensures they successfully mobilise an ambitious and energised team for a “value from technology” project:

“It is vital to position this piece of work from the start as a new and exciting project calling on different skills, capabilities and thinking from the original implementation,” says Fiona.

“We use insights to encourage people to adopt an open mindset — how would Apple think about ways to get benefit from the system and processes? Or Doctor Who? Or your biggest competitor? What would make the greatest difference to your biggest customer?

“We also help people to adopt a “yes, and…” philosophy. This encourages them to build on what’s already been suggested and be much more positive than the “yes, but…” approach people tend to default to. It turns the thinking into a game and promotes team-working, as well as eliminating the sense that the project is a critique of what’s gone before.

“Finally, you need staff to operate effectively as a team, so we draw on examples of other great teams past and present so that they can agree their own team “charter”. Examples that might be particularly compelling are teams which put their heart and soul into the project, such as Live Aid; and teams which do a fantastic job with limited resources such as international relief teams.”

“I can’t over-emphasise how important it is to remember that although implementation may be over, getting the return has just begun,” says Fiona. “Post-implementation is where the real opportunity for releasing value can be grasped and this is the responsibility of business managers, not IT. It is all well and good preparing and executing important new projects; but without tapping into users, you will never squeeze all the value out of the investment you've made.”