Are You Ready For a Virtual Makeover?

There comes a time in everyone’s life when you have to stop and say, you know what, this isn’t working anymore. Recognizing that there is a problem is the first step to making changes. Change can be difficult, and don’t think you won’t need the help of others, especially people who might know more than you. I’m talking, of course, about updating your IT system.

At some point, every company realizes that their current system is failing to meet their needs. Whether it was the first system your company used or a series of patches, your IT system may require an update or an overhaul depending on the needs of your company. In order to make successful changes, though, you need to do some serious thinking in the beginning.

Like every other business, yours needs an IT system to address basic function like payroll, bookkeeping, and data management. You might also require specialized functions that are unique to your industry or business model. Your first step to a successful system change is to determine what those needs are. For example, if you have never used spreadsheets, then you wouldn’t want to retain that feature.

Maybe you don’t even know what the most important features for your employees are. Getting feedback and involvement from your staff and clients, beyond just your IT department, is essential in order to develop a system that meets the needs of the people who use it. Remember that your IT system should support your requirements and objectives, meet expected expenses, and work with your existing technology.

If you are with a large corporation, your system or software components might come directly from your software vendor. If your business is small, you might be able to make do with software that is user-friendly, non-industry specific, and available in the market. If well-designed software exists and meets your requirements, then why wouldn’t you want to use it rather than reinventing one at great time and expense? Again, it is imperative to determine what you need your new system to do.

Then decide if you need an integrated vendor- based software that you rent or purchase, an existing system available for free, or a customized one created especially for you. Keep in mind that well over half of new IT system modifications don’t work as designed, cost more than budgeted, or take longer to activate than anticipated. If you choose to purchase a system, be aware of the agreement language just as you would for any other business contract so you don’t have sticker shock or buyer’s remorse when your new system doesn’t live up to your expectations. Make sure you have a support person to contact that can work directly with your staff and not just other IT specialists.

While working on your new IT system, you should be thinking about how you want to execute its introduction. Are you content to begin with segments as they are ready? Think of it in terms of baby steps. If you release a bit at a time and allow for adjustment, you might have better success in determining any hiccups or anticipating any changes. Those alterations will affect a segment of your productivity, while a complete makeover might stall your entire function, so don’t be so eager for the all-or-nothing approach.

You need to allow for testing along the way to make sure your adaptations will be effective. Start with the easy stuff, and get more complicated or specialized as you go. Allow your employees to share their feedback and reactions to determine if the changes are working. Don’t skip testing; whatever problems might arise are easier addressed before you make any permanent change to the new system.

After planning, designing, and testing are addressed, you still have a major detail to address: security. You wouldn’t build a dream house without thinking about how to protect it. Think of your company as your dream house. Make sure it is safe from the outside but also from the inside, when staff changes occur or responsibilities shift. Not everyone needs unrestricted access to all aspects of your IT system.

When you are ready to ring in the new and say good bye to the old, don’t just trash that old system. Archive it in case you have to access information at some future time. Also, and I cannot stress this enough, BACK UP YOUR DATA on a different server. Don’t make a system failure worse by losing all your information. You also want to have a plan in place for system maintenance, in case any small patches or fixes become necessary. It’s better to plan for it than wait for it to happen; something always happens. Assign a project manager or contact person who is charged with checking on your system and reporting or auditing on a regular and ongoing basis. Assessments of your system are desirable from planning to maintenance, so don’t disregard this task. Keep a record at every phase of development and application so that knowledge of your system is accessible when it needs to be.

Any good relationship takes thought and attention, and your IT system needs it too. When it works right, you may just take it for granted, but when it doesn’t, it consumes your time and focus. Give any updates or changes a chance to work, but be realistic if they don’t. Making a change is hard for all of us, so consider your expectations and your goals. If your standards are too high, you are going to end up disappointed, but you also need to recognize when you aren’t getting what you wanted. Eventually, you and your staff will adjust and learn to appreciate your new system, especially if those changes are effortless and painless.

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