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Business side of information systems

By Michael Cohen

Implementing a new information system is a challenging task, but if handled properly can be completed smoothly and produce organizational benefits. Often, organizations focus on getting the task complete – or the business side – without managing the people side of the change. The success of a new system implementation is partially dependent on the success of the technical deployment, but equally important is the staff’s willingness and preparedness for the change.

Many companies implement a change management initiative, in conjunction with a system implementation. New technology system implementations often change how a company does business, as well as the employee’s roles and responsibilities. This combination of new processes and new expectations is often met with anxiety and resistance. As such, developing a strong approach becomes a vital aspect in the deployment of the new system, while at the same time supporting employees who are going through and living the transformation.

Two important attributes of a successful implementation are strong leadership and staff involvement. Strong leadership is required to show commitment to the initiative and to ensure that the tools needed to effect change are available. Everyone affected by potential change must be involved in the transition. Involvement is critical to go beyond mere acceptance of the new system to ownership of the change. New systems can be deployed and new responsibilities assigned, but it is impossible to require acceptance of the change. Involvement through the project lifecycle by selected subject matter experts in the staff will help to mitigate risk and enhance communications. Including staff knowledge about the business processes will improve the definition and selection process, and support testing and training. In addition, it will help to foster acceptance if the subject matter experts can act as “champions” for the new system.

There are lessons that can be learned and activities from these initiatives that can be applied to any organization. An impact analysis is an effective way to identify and gain consensus on the personnel and operations affected by the new system. The major purpose of this analysis activity is to identify the major areas of impact due to the system implementation. Management completes this analysis and it is critical to gain consensus on the extent of the change. The analysis should examine the changes to the organization, personnel and procedures. An organization impact involves restructuring/realignment of personnel and functions. A personnel impact is a change to the roles, responsibilities or skills required by the staff. A procedure impact is a change to the way in which staff completes a task. Once finalized, the impact analysis will serve as a scoping and focusing tool for subsequent activities. Specific activities can be planned to mitigate risk, target communications and train staff.

A communication plan provides a framework for communicating statuses and changes to the staff. A communication plan identifies methods, frequency and target audiences. The goal is to keep employees abreast of the status, as well as provide exposure to the system and concepts to reduce anxiety and the learning curve. Overview of changes will help to assure that users have been briefed on the new role they will have in the system, completing any pre-requisite knowledge, and skills training (e.g. learning to navigate in Internet Explorer) to maximize new systems training. During a period of change, too much communication is better than too little.

There are several generally accepted communications principles that taken together can constitute a communications strategy. They are:

· Repetition of the desired message through more than one medium increases people’s memory of the message. The use of several channels is more effective than the use of just one. Examples of different channels include face-to-face communication, posters, emails and newsletters.

·  Direct supervision is the expected and most effective source of organizationally sanctioned information.

·  Opinion leaders are effective changers of attitudes and opinions. The subject matter experts involved in the project lifecycle are often effective opinion leaders.

·  Personally relevant information is better retained than abstract, unfamiliar or general information.

A personnel readiness assessment is an appraisal of the staff to evaluate their openness to change, and knowledge of the change and their new role. The results of the assessment should be compared to the results of the impact analysis to assure consensus. The impact analysis is from a management perspective, versus the personnel readiness assessment that is an appraisal by the staff. Any discrepancies should be addressed in the communication plan or training plan. In addition, the assessment will include verifying that the users’ computers meet minimum configuration standards for the system.

Assuring that staff is adequately trained on the new system is critical to success. A training plan includes conducting a Needs Assessment and defining a training approach. The training analysis begins with the gathering of information about the training requirements and goals, the target population and the tasks. Through in-depth analysis of this information, a more complete understanding of the current environment and the type of training needed will become evident. If the new system utilizes a different technology, pre-requisite training may be beneficial. For example, a move from a “green screen” to a browser-based system may require training on basic personal computer skills and Internet navigation training.

One of the most overlooked opportunities a new system implementation can provide is process redesign. This is accomplished by reviewing existing procedures/process flows to assure that they are being handled in the most efficient and effective manner, and consistent with new system functionality and workflow. This is accomplished through three phases: unfreezing, evaluation and refreezing. The unfreezing step requires staff to think about a process from a new perspective. This will require challenging them to evaluate their current processes and understand the why of each action. “Because that is the way I have been doing it for years” is not an acceptable answer. The evaluation step involves redesigning the processes to be more efficient. Effective redesign requires asking users: “Here’s what must happen. How do you think it can best be done?” This may require exploring bottlenecks in the process or hand-offs to assure that they are necessary. In this step, all options should be discussed to assess the benefit and feasibility. The final step is the refreezing of the new process. The outcome is documented policies and procedures (workflow and business rules), that have been designed to achieve the maximum benefit of the new system implementation. The new procedures should be integrated into the system training class.

The planning for the implementation of a new application needs to include more than the technical deployment. It must include working with the staff to assure that they are knowledgeble and prepared. People are often resistant to change, but following some of the activities and principles defined above will help to alleviate some of the uncertainty and provide for a smoother transition to the new system.

Michael Cohen is the Director of the Healthcare Strategy and Management Consulting Practice for Idea Integration, a management and technology-consulting company in Conshohocken, PA.

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