Ever said to yourself “If I had only known before I started this project” or “If I had the chance to do it again I would change…?” Whether you are public or private, emerging or enterprise, domestic or international, implementing new systems can present significant challenges for any company. A successful implementation often brings accolades, increased efficiency and cost savings, while a failure can drain your organization – putting unnecessary strain on your budget, people and productivity.  

On Wednesday, April 9, The Controllers RoundTable Boston met for “The Secrets to a Successful Systems Implementation,” where our expert panel shared their experiences implementing new applications, addressed common questions, shared their own lessons learned and highlighted their own unique keys to success.

Our speakers included:

Tim Groves  Charles Lawrence  Scott Rodriques  Jeff Wakely  
Tim Groves
VP, Vertical Services
Charles Lawrence
Director, Acctg
Ipswitch, Inc. 
Scott Rodriques
Nova Biomedical 
Jeff Wakely
Glasshouse Tech
Vinay Mehra


What We Learned

Pick Your Core Team Wisely

The panelists agreed that the best first step you can take in implementing a major system is to choose a core team whose experience is cross-functional and key in the areas that will be affected in the new system.

For example, one panelist involved their Director of Operations, CFO, CIO and the business owners, while another built a steering committee with the heads of finance, human resources, IT, and manufacturing at the helm.

No matter what your model, the feedback was clear: new system acceptance only works when your senior leadership team champion it. Therefore, get the leaders of your business involved in the process early and often.  

In terms of implementation, the experience of our panelists varied. Some chose to use a 3rd party VAR to implement their system, some chose teams from their systems vendor of choice, and others chose to rely on an internal team. Very few saw the need to ‘staff up’ and make new hires to manage the system.

One panelist shared this piece of advice: “The idea of powering through an implementation is a bad one – it’s extremely resource intensive. Make sure the people you choose internally have the time, bandwidth, and the passion to work on a project like this.”

Managing Scope Creep

As our moderator said, “All projects, whether it’s a small newsletter or the Big Dig, have scope creep.”

So how does one manage creep without losing their budget (or their minds)? First, it’s important to have a wholly-defined scope before you kick off your process. Interview your key users to understand how much time they spend in your current process in order to quantify how much time and money you may be able to save with a new system. Further, take time to understand what your users like and dislike about the current system to ensure that those beloved features and functionalities make it over to your new implementation.

It’s also important to have a clear understanding of ‘nice to have’ versus ‘need to have,’ as the ‘nice to haves’ most often are out of your scope and cost you more. One panelist shared that “the best way to keep this in check is to keep it out of the hands of your executive team. Don’t show them the cool features that you’re not getting, as they’ll always want those features.”

Third, it’s critical that your implementation partner (whether it’s the vendor themselves, a 3rd party VAR or an internal team) and your systems vendor have a clear understanding of what’s ‘nice to have’ versus ‘need to have.’

For example, one panelist shared a story where in testing the system it was found that invoicing subtotals weren’t adding up correctly, leading to incorrect invoicing amounts. When this was shared with the systems vendor, they stated that correct subtotal calculations weren’t a requested functionality, and would therefore have to charge extra to fix the error.

While an extreme example (and frankly, hilarious), the lesson here is clear – be exhaustive in your list of requirements with your systems vendor, even if it seems to be common sense.

Another panelist took a proactive approach with their systems vendor, where they wrote into the contract that if cost savings were realized, the panelist would split the savings 50/50 with the systems vendor. When describing his implementation experience, he stated that his systems vendor went above and beyond to manage the costs and meet their deadlines.

Don’t Ignore Data Migration Challenges

Quite possibly, data migration challenges are the single biggest nightmare and hassle during a systems implementation project.

The panelists urged attendees to clearly map each data point that will go from your new system to your old. While it will absolutely be time consuming, you’ll be thankful for the work later. Be sure to take into account everything – your chart of accounts, your invoices and materials, procurement processes, etc.

While in the implementation process, be sure to also keep tabs on the disparities in data entry between your old and new system, and engage your users early and often to ensure they don’t perpetuate the problem.

Finally, on the question of when to pull the trigger on moving from one general ledger system to another, each panelist conceded that there is no one right way to do it. It all depends on your fiscal year end, your reporting requirements, and the complexity of your business environment. It’s here where you’ll want to pull in your audit and finance team for their advice on how and when to make the full switch.

Managing End User Adoption

No matter what company you’re with, change is hard, and it’s entirely up to you to manage the ‘culture shock’ of a new system with your company.

The panel offered a variety of methods they employed to help their users onboard with their new system, including:

  • Making sure to first engage the ‘power users’ early in the process so that they understood the value of the system and become champions to other users.
  • Make the use of the system a part of the process through governance documents
  • Schedule team and one-on-one training hours for users
  • Sharing instructions and tips on internal wikis or SharePoint drives
  • Continual updates from senior leadership on the progress of the systems implementation project (whether it be during employee meetings, in internal newsletters, etc.)

Whatever you decide to do, all the panelists agreed that the single best thing you can do is to listen to your employees. They will be anxious about a system that’s supposed to streamline processes and changes their work patterns – open your door, lend them an ear and respect what they have to say.

Finally, for those employees you chose as part of your implementation team – show them some serious appreciation for the time that they spent in building your system. Offer a bonus or some sort of an incentive plan for their extra effort in helping you improve the way your company does business.

Talk Back

Do you have a question about implementing major systems that our panelists didn’t answer? Share your questions in the comments box today!

Photos and More Information

For more information on this or any of the upcoming events The CFO RoundTable has planned, please click here.

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