Overcoming IT system implementation challenges

October 8, 2013 By    

Information technology (IT) projects are one of the most dreaded challenges facing propane business owners and executives.

This feeling is well founded. Many experts estimate that more than half of IT projects fail to meet their goals. IT project cost is always significant – up to $100,000 for a single location independent marketer to $100 million for a large multi-state marketer.

Many employees do not like the major change from new IT systems. New IT systems take years of struggle to implement. It’s these and other reasons that make the implementation of new IT systems among the most challenging high-risk ventures any company will undertake. Therefore, business owners and management should take measures to prevent IT projects from becoming a bottomless sinkhole of money, time, frustrated employees, angry customers and management attention.

Major IT projects must be performed well in all three phases to avoid the IT sinkhole.

Software selection – The project is put on the right path by selecting a software vendor with a proven track record in the propane industry. Conversely, the wrong software vendor will certainly mire the project in high cost, long delays and even major business disruption. Undoing the consequences from selecting the wrong software vendor is a complex challenge.

Software implementation and data migration – This dynamic phase of the IT project is crucial because it impacts employees and customers. Employees must receive proper training and support to help their migration to the new system. This may be the most difficult challenge the project will face. Customers are impacted because of the look of new invoices and statements. Adverse customer impact can occur with data errors or lack of employee readiness. Data migration requires that the vast amount of data a propane business generates be moved cleanly from the old to the new database. An experienced propane company technician who understands the nuances of the data is best suited to do this complex task well.

Business practices change – The objective of the IT project is to improve the company’s business practices through new technology, not merely install a new computer system. This aspect of the project takes years to fully implement and requires understanding of how propane business activities, such as bobtail operations, are improved by the new IT system. This phase of the project also requires that employees abandon traditions and practices with which they are comfortable. Change is tough for both employees and management.

The five essentials for avoiding the IT sinkhole are:

Project leadership – Any successful project starts with effective leadership. The leader needs a working knowledge of IT, to be an effective manager, to be trusted, to be able to build consensus and to understand the propane business.

The right software – Select a reputable software company that serves the propane industry; don’t build your own. You will save money and time by obtaining software that is proven to meet the needs of the propane business. Remember that you are in the propane business, not in the business of building IT systems. Beware of the myth that a custom-built system creates competitive advantage. Finally, software cost ranks eighth on the list of 10 selection criteria.

Align key leaders – All of the key leaders must be part of a team that accepts the IT project challenges. Otherwise, finger pointing and conflict will cloud the project.

Manage by realistic objectives – Set achievable milestones on your multi-year marathon. Create accountability. Otherwise the project will languish. Beware of pundits who will make excuses and blame a variety of problems on the IT project.

Focus on the three Ps – patience, perseverance with a focus on business practices are needed to keep positive energy throughout the project.

By avoiding the IT sinkhole and successfully implementing your new IT system, your company will be well positioned to compete in the future.

Randy Doyle is CFO for Blossman Gas in Ocean Springs, Miss. He can be reached at rdoyle@blossmangas.com.

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