Whether you’re upgrading from spreadsheets to business intelligence software or need a help desk program to replace your old email-based system, deciding which type of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) best solves your problem is only the first step of a long process.

Unrealistic expectations, overlooked impacts, and frustrated employees are all waiting for you if you neglect the importance of a thorough software implementation plan.

From 2016 to 2017, Gartner reported a 19 percent year-over-year increase in inquiries regarding SaaS products, but only a 6 percent increase in inquires about SaaS implementation (report available to clients).

Clearly, many businesses are fixated on which product to buy while putting too little emphasis on implementation. Part of the reason is that business software is typically marketed for its features, while adoption challenges are downplayed.

Fortunately, you can avoid the typical software implementation pitfalls by developing a plan that includes the following six strategies.

1. Clarify your needs with the vendor

Concentrate on what the software should do for your company, rather than what it can do. Business software isn’t made for your company. It’s made for as many businesses as possible. Don’t get distracted by the vendor’s pretty website; you aren’t buying bells and whistles. You are buying software to simplify existing processes or formalize those that are not yet well defined.

This often requires tweaking workflows to fit into the new software’s framework. Your goal when discussing needs with the vendor is to determine exactly how your processes can be adapted to their product and whether or not the result is an overall improvement that helps your business better achieve its goals.

Establish the level of support you will receive, both during implementation and after the software is in use. Does the vendor offer on-site training? Do they offer 24-hour technical support? Will you be on your own? The answer to these questions might vary depending on the package selected.

Also, by adopting SaaS, you are allowing a third-party into the realm of your organization’s data flow. To mitigate potential compliance issues, it’s important to verify that the software adheres to the standards and certifications relevant to your industry.

2. Conduct your due diligence

Before clicking the accept button, ensure that you have full understanding of service levels agreements, contractual obligations, and any potential added fees.

Research the vendor prior to making a final selection.

  • Speak with vendor reference clients to learn about their experiences and identify potential pain points that you haven’t thought about. This will give you a chance to stack up the vendor’s promises against real-world experiences.
  • Ask questions related to why they chose the vendor’s product, whether they are satisfied with the return on their investment, and if they incurred any unexpected charges—and consider asking if they’ve been compensated in any way for serving as a reference.
  • Read product reviews to gauge how the software is being used and to determine if users from your industry are using the product for similar purposes. For example, here on GetApp, reviews include the industry type and business size of the reviewer’s organization.
  • Product reviewers often provide their professional information or LinkedIn profiles. You can use this information to start a conversation and request further details about their experience with the product.
  • Engage a consultant to assist with software selection or implementation. And though their advice can be valuable, consultants can be expensive and require yet another round of reference checks. If taking this route, it’s important that the consultant is familiar with your industry. Too often, consultants are hired solely for their technical expertise regarding a specific brand or type of software, despite little experience with the day-to-day operations of the client’s business.

3. Consider the impacts of who, what, and when

Ascertain who the new software will affect, what systems it will replace, and when the implementation will have the least impact.

ID-iconWho is affected

Seek input from across the business by engaging with prominent members of each department. Identify every employee who will use the new software and document exactly how each team’s workflow will be affected.

desktop-iconWhat is being replaced

If you’re replacing an existing system, the potential for duplicated data and processes must be identified and mitigated. Additionally, just because a feature is included with the new software doesn’t necessarily mean it should be utilized. Furthermore, it might make sense to limit initial adoption to specific functionality and incorporate more features as time goes by.

bullseye-iconWhen should it happen

Bad timing can wreak havoc on a software implementation plan. Minimize the potential impact of downtime by determining when the implementation should and—perhaps more importantly—should not take place. An accounting firm obviously shouldn’t change systems in March, but other considerations might be subtler or apply only to one small yet crucial department. Identify time-sensitive projects, narrow your dates, and consider administering a survey that allows employees to rank preferences.

4. Make super users your new best friends

Designate super users who will champion the new software and help others learn and adapt to new workflows. Super users should be selected according to technical ability and rapport with the rest of the team. Another consideration is whether specific employees had lobbied for the new tool; selecting these employees as super users will harness their natural enthusiasm for the project.

Super users should be involved early and often in the software selection process. Allow them to take part in product demos and involve them in training development for the new system.

During implementation, they should be kept apprised of updates or problems and be empowered to act as a liaison between management and end users. Subsequent to the implementation, super users can help bring new hires up to speed and act as an ongoing resource.

Steps to creating a super user

Steps to creating a super user

5. Formally track your software implementation plan

If your software implementation plan is relatively straightforward, tracking its progress might only require a free tool, such as Google Sheets. More complicated plans, however, can benefit from comprehensive task management software.

These tools are designed to be intuitive, collaborative, and affordable with many popular options offered as freemium or starting at $5 per month.

However, stacking one learning curve on top of another might not be ideal. Optimally, you can track tasks using a resource with which your employees are already familiar.

Task management in monday.com
Task management in monday.com (Source)

6. Be upfront with end users

Communication is key to a successful software implementation plan and you need to clearly explain the reasons for change. Maybe you’ve outgrown an existing solution and need to replace it with something more robust. Perhaps you need a new solution to problems that have been piling up.

Show employees exactly how they will benefit from the new software and the ways in which it makes their jobs easier. Customize messaging according to how the software will be used by each line of business.

Explaining your reasoning and defining benefits will comfort skeptical employees and help win over those who didn’t think there was anything wrong with the old ways.

Software implementation plans aren’t supposed to be easy

Adjusting to new technology always brings a level of frustration. Sugarcoating the transition to a new system will only result in inflated expectations and staff disengagement. Instead, position the changeover as a conquerable challenge that will bring your team together.

This article is part of an ongoing series about the business value of IT.

Note: The information contained in this article has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. The applications selected are examples to show a feature in context, and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations.

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