This week we're pleased to feature a guest post from Shannon Devane. Shannon is a ClearRisk user and also the Risk Manager at the City of Vaughn, Ontario.
Full disclosure – I am not an Information Technology Specialist nor a Business Analyst. In fact, I’m a Risk Manager ‘moonlighting’ in software implementation and development. My background involves various areas of insurance, risk, and claims, primarily in the Public Sector. Throughout my career, I have been involved in several large software purchases and designs. From a large, multi-organization project to one catered to a specific group of clients with a single municipal implementation on the side, I have come away from each project feeling more confident and knowledgeable.
One thing you must know right off the bat is that these projects are monsters. They are fraught with peril and have an alarmingly high rate of failure. I say this not to scare you (really, I want you to keep reading!), but to help you set expectations of yourself. If you have been tasked with implementing a software program or creating efficiencies using technology, know that you are in for a challenge. However, I have learned that planning, setting realistic timelines and managing expectations go a long way to tame the beast.
Here are some of the key lessons I have learned:
1. Start with your end vision
What is it that you hope this new software will produce for you? What information do you need out of the system? What do you want the reports to look like? When would you be producing them? Sit down and map out your perfect end state. Write out not only what that system would produce for you, but how you would use it in your day-to-day life at work. Get creative! Put a pen to paper and draw it out. Don’t put any limits on your perfect world.
2. Technology review
What kind of technology will you be using? What type of hardware do you have access to? Desktop only? Laptops? Tablets? A combination? If you opt for a cloud-based program, what IT requirements do you need to meet as per your IT department? For example, I was asked during a brainstorming meeting what my perfect world looked like. I advised that I would like to be able to access a live system, at any time, with any client and have the ability to show them a customized dashboard. This dashboard would contain information such as total number of claims open by various factors, such as type of claim or department. It would also show their loss ratio and position as compared to other clients (where applicable and without breaching privacy). Dream big.Depending on an organization’s industry, risk appetite, and management attitudes, an organization’s culture is automatically formed. To change a culture, it’s usually helpful to bring some formality into the process.
In looking at what you created during step one, prioritize the pieces of your “perfect world” end product. What is an absolute must-have versus a nice-to-have, both immediately and for the foreseeable future?
4. Future state
Using your best crystal ball, look into the future and try to determine what kind of reporting you think you will need or might need. Are your operations changing? Are you growing or evolving your team? What does that look like and how would you like your software to respond to these changes?
5. Identify your team
Who is working with you on this project? What can you delegate? What internal IT talent do you have access to? Who is the Project Champion? You may be the Project Owner, but you need someone above you in the organization to be your champion. Their role is to help you gain resourcing when required; they are critical to your success. They will ensure that your project gets both the support and attention required to ensure the software is implemented and accepted.
Now that you know what your perfect current and future states look like, you need to turn your attention to data. In my experience, this has been the most challenging task of all.
1. Current processes
What kind of data do you collect now? How is it collected? How is it stored? How can it be manipulated? How is it organized? Gather all your spreadsheets, tables, binders, and loose paper – whatever is applicable. Dig deep to determine exactly what data you currently collect.
2. Current reports
Do you currently collect all the data that you need? Look at what data you might need in order to produce the reports necessary for your perfect state, and compare that to what you are collecting now. Find the gaps and determine the best way forward for collecting this data.
Organize the data in such a way that it demonstrates how data pieces are related. For example, if you choose to organize data by department, ensure that all of your organization’s properties, automobiles, and equipment can be tied back to each department. Create a general rule for those sets of data that might not have a specific departmental home, such as a group of equipment.
Selecting your Software Provider
Depending on your purchasing bylaws and/or best practices, you may be involved in a Request for Proposal. At this stage it is critical that you not only receive a demonstration of the proponent’s software and what it can do, but that you receive a first look at what the software will look like out of the box. When you install the program or log in, what will you see?
For a fully custom solution, you won’t see anything. You will have to work with the provider’s project manager or developer to develop a template that defines the specifics of each screen. For example, if you were developing a screen to track claimant information, you would provide your developer with a document that stated the number and types of required fields. For these types of systems, it is important that you understand how the design of the screens you are building today will affect the functionality of reports and screens you intend to design in the future.
If you purchase a system that has a layout and screens present upon purchase and install, it is recommended that you fully understand how customizable the system is. How much can you alter the placement of fields and what type of data can you capture in them? Understanding both your freedoms and your restrictions will help you manage expectations and create parameters for the project.
These types of systems require a great deal of resourcing in terms of staff time. Error: How to Prevent Tech Project Failures by Neil Hodge states “It is a common mistake to nominate people internally to lead the project in addition to letting them continue with their day job. Instead, organizations need to set up a dedicated full-time project management team that reports directly to the executive … without adequate support, deadlines are often missed, and the implementation is not done properly”. When beginning an implementation process, you need to understand this requirement and be able to assign dedicated individuals to the project.
3. Management support
Software implementations also need support from upper management in the form of a Project Champion. Neil Hodge notes that “Change can be hard. Even the best-planned and best-run projects will hit roadblocks where tough decisions may need to be made … Unless a project has the right level of executive involvement – not just a signature on some paperwork, but full visibility and input into the process – lack of executive sponsorship can at best introduce delays and allow scope creep, or at worst become a point of failure.” This is where your project champion comes in!
When researching your vendor of choice, make sure you request references in addition to samples of work. Call these references. All of them. Ask questions about how the vendor responded during a challenge in the project or what happened when they couldn’t deliver a certain functionality. They can be your closest ally in this project. You need to know the good and the bad before you sign on the dotted line.
Which leads me back to my first piece of advice...
These projects are monsters. They are challenging. But know that you are also up for the challenge if you plan ahead and set realistic timelines and boundaries. It will be stressful. You will need to be flexible and you will need to lean on your various stakeholders. Building solid relationships is critical. Perhaps the most crucial relationship is your identified project champion. Ensure that you have regularly scheduled meetings with them and be honest at each touchpoint. What is going well? What is moving off track a bit, and what are the risks of missing key targets entirely? If they can provide a resource that could save a task from missing its target, they need to know about it as soon as possible.
Your relationship with your selected vendor is just as critical. You will need to work closely with them to communicate any required changes and ensure that there aren’t any surprises, such as additional costs for tailoring/customization that are outside of the scope of your agreement. Remember that they are the experts and a wealth of knowledge. There isn’t anything that is “too hard” or “too much”. They can consider each request and possibly create functionality that will make your job that much easier. Ultimately, your success is their success. Choose wisely!
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Your comments are welcome.