Implementing Your Service Business Software: How to Do It Right!
In our previous articles, we have provided a guide to choosing the right service business management software that suites your business.
And once you’ve done all your research and have selected the software that’s right for you, it’s time to get it implemented.There are many stories out there of companies, even large Fortune 500 companies, spending many thousands and sometimes millions of dollars on software that never gets implemented.
So what are some things to consider to make sure you don’t become one of these companies?
Identifying Key Players and Gathering Input
It’s vital to the success of your software implementation to gather input and feedback with as many key players in your organization as possible.
It’s not unusual in a busy office with several very competent employees for managers to become slightly isolated from the roles that people perform. An employee may have been with your company for years and they do a fantastic job – they rarely make mistakes, they get everything done on time and make it look like a breeze. You are extremely busy yourself and they are doing a great job, so if you don’t need to get involved that’s great – right? Well it is on the one hand, but it might mean you may not be fully aware of all the little intricacies of their role.
It’s important to get everyone to sit down with the new software, to go through some training, and to do a walk-through of what they specifically will be doing in the new software. This is even more important if you have commissioned modifications to the software. No matter how well you might try to plan modifications, you shouldn’t be that surprised if you later realize something you hadn’t thought of previously and plans have to be changed.
In my many years of helping companies of all sizes implement software there has been one thing that has stood out to me among the ones who do it successfully. And this is that somebody must be “the champion” of the software. One person who has taken charge of the project and who is committed to getting it done.
Sometimes this is the owner of the company. Sometimes it is the office manager. Sometimes it is even the head of operations. Usually this person is the one who has been the champion of the software all along – the main driving force behind finding and purchasing the software. This individual is not always the owner, but they will certainly not be able to accomplish this project if they don’t have the trust and support of the owner of the company.
Often companies who are looking for software are already in a state of disarray. This is their pain point – this is why they need software – because the office is chaotic and disorganized. Because jobs are being missed, clients are not always getting billed, and no one has a clear idea as to how well the company is performing. In the middle of all this chaos the software champion must step out and devote time to getting the software implemented. It is like taking time out of bailing water from a flooding ship to look for a better bucket. It can be a very stressful and difficult task. This is why they must have the support of the owners of the company.
Example: A Pest Control Business
One memorable implementation project I can recall, was headed by the office manager. The owners of the company were a husband-and-wife team. The husband was more involved with the operations, the practicalities, in-the-field types of issues and, to be really honest, did not have a mind for things like computers at all. The wife, was more involved in the office management side of things.
The person that was appointed to be “in charge” of the implementation was the office manager. She was a very capable young woman. She had a full grasp of the needs of the company, the requirements of the software, and the complexities involved.She was also a key player in the normal day-to-day runnings of the business. Not surprisingly, she had been a key player at the company for a long period of time. She was an integral part of many of the company procedures. She took considerable time out of her day-to-day regular duties to devote to the implementation of the software. Learning the software was one part of this. Another part of this was working to ensure the data transfer we performed was correct.
It ended up being a huge implementation project and she actually had to spend more than one weekend working on it to get it done. This is one of the best-outcome cases I can think of: where you have the owners of the company, and the person appointed to get the software implemented working together very well.
Whatever system you’re coming from there will be a time of adjustment.
Even if you say you have “no system” – if your business is in operation, you must have some system in place already. Perhaps it is not a very complex system – it may be just using Google Calendars and Excel – maybe even pen and paper, but is still a system that you’ll be transitioning from.There’s always some degree of inertia to be overcome in transitioning from an old system to a new one. Changing the way that things have always been done adds additional work. This can be especially hard when the office may already be in a dire state of disarray and chaos.
There may be several personnel involved in the transition and each person may be at a different stage of acceptance and willingness to adapt to the new way of doing things.There may be some who are very enthusiastic and only wish this transition had happened years ago. There may be others who don’t see what’s wrong with the old system and why things have to change, especially when they already feel overworked and overwhelmed. If you are aware of this resistance to change, you will be able to spot it, talk to the person experiencing the problem, and try to help them overcome it.
I remember one particular assignment I was on. In this company, the office manager had been with the 20+ year-old company from the beginning. She was a walking rolodex and could recite customer phone numbers when prompted. There were things that were not even written down anywhere: they were all stored in her head. You can imagine the chaos when she ever was sick. And her going on a vacation? Forget about it! This would mean that the company would come to a grinding halt. Of course any kind of business being completely reliant on one individual like this is very inefficient. Hence their need to get and implement software. Our task was to install and set up the software and train all their office personnel.
Actually most of the personnel had a great attitude towards the software. But there was one person that was very quiet throughout – the office manager. The overall training consisted of a main training session, which consisted of me giving an outline of the main features of our software and of their function to all office staff, and then going around from person to person individually to answer specific questions about the software. Once we were wrapping up, and after most of the office staff already had left, the office manager drew me aside to ask for some help. It turns out she was absolutely petrified of implementing the new software. She had a deep fear of computers and just felt completely lost and unsure of herself.
Giving a person like this so much control is a problem for the business. These days, technology is a vital part of the success of any company. If you have someone in charge who is petrified of such change, there’s no way your business can compete.
“It’s Not Perfect Yet!”
One of the other biggest pitfalls I have seen with software implementation is waiting for it to be “perfect”. With software, nothing is ever going to be perfect. Why? Because if you’re thinking right, you will ALWAYS be thinking of ways that your software can be improved. This is actually great – this is what you SHOULD be doing! There are always new things your software can do for you.
I can speak from personal experience about this one. It’s happened to me more than once, that I’ll be drifting off to sleep – in that strange state where you’re not yet asleep, but still not awake – where your mind is sort of floating – a couple of times I’ve had inspirations at this point for something that we could do in our software to improve.
Another client I have been working with going on for 2 years now, actually purchased the software, with extensive modifications – and has spent 2 years reviewing the completed modifications and adding additional modifications on top of it. To be fair to them, they do have a complicated set-up. They are using a custom software package they had developed for themselves about 20 years ago. There are many complexities involved in their business and it is very chaotic. The owner must be present in the office every day or else everything falls apart. Just working with him on the phone to review the software is difficult – it requires being put on hold every few minutes while he answers questions from one of his employees. But after 2 years you start to think that something with the picture is wrong. The excuse for not implementing the software yet is always that there is still something else that is needed – it’s never perfect. But perhaps this is the problem – waiting for it to be perfect.
One of the best qualities I see among owners and implementers is the admittance that, “yes, it’s not perfect, but we will forge ahead,” and the acknowledgement that software is not something that is static, but is always evolving with your business.
Data transfers is something that many people don’t even think twice about when embarking on the project of implementing new software. However, software has been around for a long time. Most companies that purchase software now, unless they are start-ups, are coming from something else. If your company is of a large size with an existing customer base you will most likely want to transfer your data from whatever program you have been using.
This may be relatively simple. For example, if you’ve been using QuickBooks, and your new software interfaces with it, it may simply be a question of establishing that link. Or, you may have your present data in something else. You may even have different pieces of data in different programs. Perhaps your account information is in QuickBooks, and your schedules are in another program, and customer credit cards may be in yet another.
First of all, is your new software provider willing to transfer the data for you? If your data is stored in multiple programs, the task may be too great for some providers.Hopefully, your software provider will be willing to help you with the transfer. The tricky part with data transfer is that with the final transfer you need to start using the new software. Because, after that point, any data you enter in the old programs will not be there in the transferred data. Speaking for our own company, when we do a data transfer for someone, we usually do one or more trial transfers first. This does several things for our client:
First, it allows them to see where all the data from their old programs is being transferred into. This gives them an opportunity to make any necessary changes about where the data is going. It might only come upon seeing the data in its new home that they realize that certain pieces of information would be better in another place, or that they forgot something.
Second, doing a trial transfer provides them with something “to play with”. Something that they can use for training purposes, to familiarize themselves with the new software. Often, this is the point that someone in the company may think of something that up to then nobody has thought of.
I am reminded of one data transfer project we did for a particular client. They were transferring from another program. It was just one program, so on the surface it didn’t seem to be “that” difficult. However, we set multiple “final transfer” dates. Each time they would begin using the software and, usually within a couple of hours, identify some piece of information that was missing from the old software, or that wasn’t really in the appropriate place in the new software. At this point, the implementation would have to be aborted and they would need to revert back to using the old software while the necessary changes to the data transfer could be made, and a new date for the final data transfer would be set.
This happened multiple times with this client.So what was the problem? Their old software was pretty complicated and there were many factors to keep in mind. They had also commissioned several modifications to the software and where the data would be transferred to was dependent upon these modifications. But yet it shouldn’t have needed so much back and forth. Ultimately, the problem was that they had failed to get enough input from key players.
The owner of the company was the main driving force behind getting the software implemented. Which is great on the one hand – they were very enthusiastic about it and also had the authority to implement it. Yet there were many intricate details of the business that the owner wasn’t aware of. It was not until certain key players were faced with the new software and instructed to begin using it that they would identify and mention what vital task they performed that they would be unable to do with the new software. Sometimes, it may be necessary to maintain 2 systems for a certain time. This can be a great burden and necessitate a lot of double-entry, but for a week or two it can also be a great help to ensure a smooth transition.
All of the cases that I outlined here eventually had happy outcomes – even if there were mistakes made or unforeseen hurdles along the way – perseverance and a commitment to getting the job done ultimately won out. Out of all of these pieces of advice and recommendations, having the right attitude and staying positive is the most important of all!