8 tips for downsizing disruption during technology transition

HIGH POINT — People commonly exhibit four stages when it comes to adopting new technology, according to futurist Brian David Johnson, and he notes that they are surprisingly similar to the accepted stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

The common path for technology adoption, according to Johnson, is to pass through the initial stage of fear, advance to a personal struggle to make sense of the technology, which is often followed by a denial of its usefulness and finally acceptance.

Although there may be some initial fear when it comes time to upgrade legacy technology, there are some steps a company can take to minimize disruption.

{1} Software companies that work in the home furnishings space say the top priority is to make sure companies have done their homework when comparing systems.

“When we are talking with prospective clients, we address their pain points first of all,” said Carolyn Crowley, president of Myriad Software. “They may have only two areas of concern, or they may have five, but it’s imperative to make sure all their pain points have been addressed.”

It’s important for the technology provider to demonstrate how the new system will resolve these current pain points and frustrations, according to Jake Egan, a manager of consulting services at technology-company Storis.

“People are naturally resistant to change, but if the outcome is to make their lives easier and help them do their jobs more effectively, they will get on board. This is a great way to inspire positive change management,” said Egan.

Chris Benner, senior industry principal of retail at Oracle Netsuite, says his company works with retailers all over the world, from stores that are currently using pen-and-paper to keep track of inventory to others who are working with 25-year-old legacy systems.

“Some retailers are doing well, going like gangbusters, and they realize if they are going to stay modern, that it’s time to upgrade their technology,” said Benner. “Others wait until they are facing troubled times before pulling the trigger to upgrade.”

Benner says one of the frequent mistakes companies make is adding a consumer-facing technology element of augmented or virtual reality without first making sure the data-processing technology has been updated.

“Retailers often like to dip their toe into technology with AR or VR,” said Benner. “But, they find it’s impossible to implement that type of innovation if the back-end data is inaccurate.”

{2} From the start of any project, it’s critical to have executive commitment, which is a clear marker of successful projects.

“Ownership that actively leads change management within the organization is able to inspire the future vision that will be achieved through technology. It’s important for the executive team to define the goals of the implementation,” Egan said. “Knowing the vision of your new software is crucial to building a road map.”

Crowley agreed. “It’s imperative to have your key staff on board; the owner or members of upper management need to be involved in some way, shape or form,” she added. “It’s critical for the owner or members of upper management to know what the expectations are, as well as the timeline.”

{3} Another crucial area involves data and how much is converted to the new system.

“Many times with companies, the reason they are upgrading is that their current systems aren’t accurate,” said Crowley. “We’ve all heard the term ‘garbage in, garbage out.’ We don’t recommend bringing over data to the new system, such as inventory levels or sales order data where there’s already a problem with it being correct. It’s often better to get a fresh start when implementing a new system.”

Knowing in advance how the data that’s collected is going to be used can also alleviate disruption. Technology providers don’t recommend gathering data that doesn’t have a clear use.

“In my experience, data for the sake of data isn’t good. Many times clients become irritated when it doesn’t add value,” said Crowley.

{4} Egan noted that on the technical side, Storis always conducts a practice go-live session to test data conversions 30 days in advance. This ensures that all data that needs to be converted at the final cut-over point, such as open sales and purchase orders, is validated accurately.

Seeing a live demonstration is imperative, according to Crowley, and she also recommends that companies ask for references and speak to others who are currently using the system. It is also necessary to set expectations of the project upfront.

“At Storis, our project managers develop a custom project plan for each client with deadlines and resource expectations. That way everyone is on the same page from the onset. Every project is really a subset of smaller, manageable tasks,” Egan said. “Our project managers work to define a timeline that works best for the flow of the project and efficient utilization of resources.”

{5} Another important area to consider is training.

“We recommend having more than one person at each retailer who is intimately familiar with the new system, since it’s often too much for one person to be the ‘go-to’ contact and the only one with all the knowledge of how the new system works,” said Crowley.

Egan agreed. “Our retailers use our training outlines as a starting point, but it’s best to customize documentation for each client’s unique processes and internal language. Developing a set of standard operating procedures also has long-term value as a resource to onboard new employees even after the initial implementation is over.”

Oracle Netsuite uses a methodology called SuiteSuccess to help retailers ease into the process with a series of well-defined steps.

“It’s not a process of starting from scratch. Those days are gone,” said Benner. “We leverage the learnings from the more than 10,000 technology integrations that the company has done over the years to help retailers ease into the upgrade process with a series of well-defined steps.”

Even though the company’s owners and upper management aren’t likely the ones who will be training the rest of the staff, it’s important for them to know the expectations and to be aware of any possible issues or stumbling blocks.

As an example, Crowley shared the story of a company where the owner was hesitant to upgrade to a new technology. He then became ill and was out work for about a month. During that time, he was challenged to get timely information with current inventory and sales numbers. It was at that point that the owner realized that neither he nor his staff was getting the information needed from their current system, and he knew it was time to upgrade. The owner then played an active role in the conversion process.

Egan said Storis’ project managers work with retailers to physically test scenarios and then train them on how the procedure will function in the new technology.

“Doing run-through scenarios a few weeks before actual go-live is valuable practice and reinforces training. Everyone at the retailer is more confident to proceed independently with practice under their belt ahead of the actual go-live event,” said Egan. “In fact, companies that take the time upfront to train and prepare – find the go-live to be an almost non-event.”

{6} Technology companies agree that the day the new system goes live is an exciting one. In order to positively execute the company’s vision, the technology provider needs to ensure that the client has a seamless and productive day by developing detailed cutover plans with a sequence of events, sometimes down to the hour. Most systems transitions occur during off business hours to minimize disruption.

“Our conversion to Storis was professionally conducted with minimum business interruption and delivered immediate material benefits,” said Shelley Levitz of Ashley in Dallas/Fort Worth.

{7} Once a new system is in place, most software systems undergo upgrades on a regular basis. It’s important to set an expectation for how ongoing training will occur.

“Many times the new information can be communicated over the phone or with a customized webinar,” said Crowley. “Other times the key people will come out to our office for training, or we send representatives from Myriad to their offices to meet with them.”

Communication between the technology provider and the client is imperative to compare company business processes and performance metrics to industry standards as well as best practices from other companies.

“The project manager and your team should maintain open communication with regularly planned project updates to track milestones throughout the project and ensure positive progress,” said Egan.

Oracle Netsuite officially updates its software twice a year, but also offers its customers ongoing training videos, onsite training, knowledge bases that can be searched and advanced customer support.

{8} Technology providers also recommend that retailers move to storing all data in the cloud. Statistics from the RightScale 2018 State of the Cloud report show that 96% of companies are currently using the cloud either in a public or private capacity because of the limited access, cybersecurity expertise and frequent auditing.

Benner says moving data to the cloud often frees up individuals within the company to move away from putting out fires and instead work more strategically, since the company’s data collection and analysis is now outsourced.

“If an owner or a member of the team is traveling or at a market or a conference, if the company’s data is on the cloud they can access that data from anywhere,” said Crowley.

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