Managing Changes to Business Software for Painless Transitions

Software often provides the backbone for how the business operates.  For example, if a company utilizes a CRM, compliance by the sales people is critical to the everyday operation of that company.  Likewise, when changes are made to the software, critical business functions can be affected.  Example:  Recently, a widely-used sales forecasting and tracking software company acquired a contact database.  When the two were integrated, the procedures required to do a search of the contact database changed enough to throw thousands of impatient sales people into apoplexy.  While it worked out fine, this very slight bend in the river was enough to provoke some mini-crises among users of the software.

Lots of companies take an ad hoc approach to software changes, not realizing that when a part of their infrastructure changes, it can have resounding unintended consequences.  Some examples:

1. IT changes server software, but fails to notify the business.  Unintended consequence: The company’s demand planning software, which was pulling data from the old database, shuts down.

2. Software upgrades require that users create new logins.  Some users are caught unawares, and they are frozen out of critical functions.

The dangers of the ad hoc approach, as well as remedies, are well-documented in a study conducted by Forrester Research.  While the study is a few years old, the prescriptions outlined for effective business software change management still apply.

Here are some considerations for change management in business software:

1. The change management process applies to both the business side and the IT side.  Poor IT change management leads to unhappy business users; poor business user compliance or lack of buy-in leads to changes that are expensive and difficult to implement but, in the end, are neutral or even detrimental to the business.

2. The reason or reasons for the change must be clearly communicated.   Asking people to do something different is often asking them to take on pain.  In order to justify pain, the gain must be explained.  If there is no gain, management must reassess the need for the change.

3. IT Departments must not only communicate with the business, but intra-departmentally as well.  The change must be managed with a view toward IT efficiency, not just business process improvement.

4. No matter how well the change management process is thought out and put together, it is useless without proper compliance monitoring, remediation, and if necessary, enforcement.

5. You are going to make a mistake at some point along the way.  Don’t beat yourself up.  Learn from it.

Whoever we are, wherever we are, change is going to happen.  In life, change is often random and unmanageable; however, as pertains to changes in business software within your company, “random and unmanageable” is little more than a consequence of lack of foresight and preparation.  Effective change management is an essential component of success.

Marissa Elner

Marissa Selner earned a B.A. in Communication from University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. She has been writing business columns since 2007.

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