This is the step that separates the niche players from the market leaders. It is tempting to look at an SIS or BMS as “just another product purchase,” but if you’ve ever been through one of these transitions, you know that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Even the best technology will be undone by a haphazard implementation. In the not-too-distant past, it was commonplace for technology vendors to invest all of their time and payroll into software development and leave it up to you figure out the rest after the purchase. As enterprise solutions become ever more complex, that model is no longer sufficient.
Your proposal will include significant one-time costs above and beyond the technology license. Implementation fees, including project management, training, and data migration will make up a healthy percentage of your year-one budget for the project. Some of those potential costs (and their short-term impact) are detailed here.
– The scope of an enterprise technology implementation is so big that both your district and your vendor should have a project manager on board. These individuals should have a firm grasp of PMBOK
(Project Management Body of Knowledge) best practices and will serve as the primary points of contact from the day of your contract signing through well beyond the launch date.
The role of the project manager is to craft a viable project plan that includes a schedule of all the necessary implementation steps, continuously review the project to ensure that all milestones are met on schedule, conduct ongoing risk management analyses, initiate change review processes, and clear obstacles as they arise. The last thing you want to deal with is crossed wires and haphazard communication. An effective project management program will ensure that all parties remain accountable for the scope of work you’ve agreed upon.
– Only the most experienced firms will include a consultation program. Even then, it is one of the most misunderstood elements of an implementation project. What are you paying for, exactly? Enterprise technology consultants are typically some of the most knowledgeable and experienced individuals you’ll find anywhere.
Consultants aren’t “technology” people; they are industry experts who know how your district or municipality operates, either due to a previous career in your shoes or the fact that they have dozens of implementations under their belts. The consultant will spend his or her time learning the ins and outs of your district, then report back to the project manager with recommendations for optimal software configuration, customized training, and a deep understanding of the workflow you’ll rely on to get the job done.
– At some point, your data needs to be moved from your current solution into the new one, but it’s never as easy as just pressing a button. In 35 years of partnering with the public sector, it has been our experience that the most painful aspect of a traditional conversion is the data migration process.
From custom interfaces to incompatible data validations, it sometimes feels like you’d be better off setting aside a few weeks (and a large team) to just manually enter your information into the new system. Of course, that’s simply not feasible. Make sure you know what your investment includes – we’ve heard horror stories from districts who paid for migration only to be handed a massive spreadsheet and asked to fill it with all of their existing data. That’s just not good customer service (or a productive use of your staff’s time).
Ideally, your team won’t need to be trained or even involved in the actual upload of data to your new solution. At most, your data technicians should be able to upload your information to a secure location and let your new technology partner take care of the rest. As with any element of implementation, communication will be key – make sure you’ve assigned subject matter experts to be available when your provider’s programmers have questions about fields or formatting.
– Arguably the most crucial aspect of any implementation, an effective mix of on-site, web, and self-service training will set your team up for success in your first year with a new SIS or BMS. But, that knowledge transfer comes with a cost. In the short-term, there are two important factors to consider:
1) The delivery model
As mentioned above, the best mix will involve more than just direct instruction. Hands-on, just-in-time instruction has been proven to be more effective in the educational environment, so you should expect the same for a software solution that will touch nearly every aspect of your day-to-day operations.
Make sure your scheduled sessions are supplemented with quality documentation and an internal learning management system that your end users can revisit and your department leaders can keep abreast of their staff’s progress.
2) The depth of the proposal
A common tactic employed by vendors in the increasingly competitive enterprise solutions market is to lowball the training section of your proposal in an effort to come in as the lowest bid.
Once you’ve signed the contract and begun implementation, these companies are counting on you paying for whatever additional training is necessary when you realize your team doesn’t actually know how to use the solution. This can have a detrimental effect on both morale and the total cost of ownership associated with your new solution.
Contract negotiation can be a death knell for effective training plans as well, with purchasers and district administrators scrutinizing every dollar. Unfortunately, it’s these services that often find themselves on the chopping block.
The success or failure of your implementation can have lasting ramifications on your switch to a new enterprise solution. A poorly managed or under-researched project can fall apart before it even takes off. When you read stories of cost overruns and multi-year transitions that sap district resources, the cause is almost always the same: underbidding technology vendors who put more effort into getting the contract signed than getting you up and running.
While the cost of an effective implementation can be intimidating, the results are what ultimately matters. For those who have never been through this process, concepts like consultation and project management can appear to be nothing more than proposal padding, especially when held up against competing proposals that include little more than software licenses. In reality, these services are essential to the health of both your administrative operations and your budget.
Of all the line items on your proposal, those associated with training carry the biggest long-term risk. The switch to a new SIS or BMS can be a major source of excitement for all of your district’s stakeholders. After all, the expectation is that you’re moving on to something that will ultimately make it easier for everyone to do their job and be more effective in the process.
Nothing kills excitement over time more than the feeling that you are not getting the most out of your technology. You may know that the functionality you need is there, but what does it matter if your end users don’t know how to get at it. This results in a snowball effect of more training, year after year, followed by the unending cycle of diminished productivity.
Think of what that does to your costs over the course of a five-year contract. Now, you’re not only paying for the licensing fees, but you’re tacking on potentially tens of thousands of dollars in training that you thought you’d only have to pay for once. Refresher training is important and – depending on your turnover rates – sometimes necessary, but it should not be an annual occurrence. This is where the aforementioned, self-service learning management systems can put a huge dent in your bottom line costs.
An often-overlooked aspect of long-term satisfaction and financial security is the technology firm’s commitment to user experience and community. A lack of transparency can result in otherwise valuable enhancements that fly under the radar or significant changes that you have no way of preparing for. The ability to share best practices and stay up to date on everything that’s new in your SIS or BMS will result in significant cost savings over the lifespan of your contract.
During the evaluation stage
Dig deeper than just features and functions. Sure, a massive specification workbook is the traditional method of comparing two similar “products,” but enterprise solutions are more than just a product. Specs can’t identify the real factors in the success or failure of your implementation - traits like industry leadership, relevant experience, and stability.
Put extra weight on references and research – have other similarly sized districts experienced success with a particular solution? Was the implementation completed on time and on budget? Do they feel like they were sold a bill of goods, or has the solution delivered everything that was promised?
It also pays to rely on more than just the vendor’s word. Call some districts that you know are using their solution but weren’t on the reference list. Use Google to browse recent commentary and news items. No vendor is going to proactively share the skeletons in their closet, but a little bit of research can reveal all you need to know to make an informed decision.