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How You Can Manage the Risks of a System Implementation

System-implementationManaging a system implementation is not an easy task. And if done incorrectly, can cause significant headaches for your business and your customers. There are ways, however, to identify the risks of a system implementation and manage those risks more effectively.

It's fair to say that an organization’s strategic goals drive the systems it implements. However, if those goals and the implementation are not aligned, your organization risks realizing only part of the implementation's expected value, or worse – realizing no value at all. Having other risk factors such as errors in converting or migrating data come to fruition only add to what may already seem like a monumental undertaking.

If you are having or have recently had these concerns, you are not alone. According to the AICPA 2013 North American Top Technologies Initiatives Survey, the topic of managing system implementation was ranked fifth out of the ten top priorities within the U.S. and seventh in Canada. In fact, only 44% of U.S. respondents said they were confident or highly confident in the ability of their clients' organizations or their own organization in managing a system implementation. That number was only slightly higher (47%) for Canadian respondents. So, what can you do to manage those risks?

Managing System Implementation Risks: Intel Shares Its Lessons Learned

To better manage the risks of a system implementation, an organization must establish a strong alignment between its strategic goals and IT-related projects. In evaluating new projects, it must consider the business case for each project and prioritize projects according to its strategic goals.

The organization must also analyze and document the business requirements for all approved projects. Subsequent evaluation of the value of each project based on a variety of criteria including the extent of financial and operational data to be obtained as well as the desired quality and integrity of data provided by the system are key to a successful implementation 

How does this work in real life? Intel Corporation published a white paper detailing how it managed a recent system implementation and shared some of the lessons learned along the way, specifically the importance of: 

  • Defining the integration points to the governance processes. Successfully moving a strategic plan from concept to reality depends on clear, well-defined integration points with the budgeting, governance and decision-making processes within IT. Decision-makers must understand the strategic directions and make decisions consistent with their intent. If localized, sub-optimal decisions will be made and the plan will not succeed.
  • Defining and managing planning data. A wealth of data flows throughout the strategic planning process. To lend focus to the process and avoid wasted efforts, deliverables for each step of the process must be clearly defined from the start. This helps ensure that the correct data is developed for effective decision making and also builds support for the process by informing stakeholders of the expected output of each step. 
  • Defining and publicizing the planning calendar. When multiple levels of planning occur simultaneously, publicizing a planning calendar lets everyone know what's happening – and when – so that you're all on the same page.
  • Realizing that timing is essential. Each step in the planning process must support the next stage. Direct influence is lost if there are timing missteps along the way.
  • Clearly defining roles and responsibilities. For Intel, these included core team members such as business process managers who define, communicate, facilitate and improve the process through each cycle. Subject matter experts developed the data, analysis and ideas that were used throughout the process. The company found it best to have a broad, virtual team from across the organization participating in this process to make sure the output was challenged and supported from a number of different perspectives. Decision makers reviewed, discussed and debated the strategic planning data and set the direction for the organization. Clearly defining the decision makers early on will help avoid organizational conflict later.
  • Communicating data and messages well. Effectively communicating the strategic planning messages and associated data to middle and first line managers helps them educate their personnel. Well informed employees are most likely to commit to and support the plan.

Every organization struggles with managing system implementations. And every organization has its own individualized strategic goals, thus your management strategy will likely differ from that of a similar organization. Regardless of strategic goals, industry or organization, the AICPA is here to help you better manage your top technology issues. Find additional resources with the U.S. Top Technology Initiatives Survey Toolkit including public accounting, and business and industry white papers, analytical briefs that fit the organizational needs of IMTA Division members and the educational commitments of CITP credential holders.

Jocelyn M. Woodard, Manager IMTA, American Institute of CPAs. Jocelyn is a technology risk and assurance manager assisting AICPA committee and task force members with the planning and implementation of initiatives that will better aid CPAs in understanding and utilizing information management and technology assurance tools and concepts.

System implementation image via Shutterstock

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