Lessons Learned from IT Projects, Direct from Public Safety Agencies
When asked about the key ingredients for a successful technology project outcome, DELTAWRX is quick to answer: executive level support, a dedicated project manager, a well-defined and inclusive governance structure, stakeholder participation and attention to change management. We had the opportunity to ask 21 government agencies that recently implemented public safety information systems about the most important lessons that THEY learned from their projects. Four lessons rose to the top.
1. Proactively Manage Change
"Get the change management wheels in motion early."
"Invest in change management - this is the most important issue you can address as an organization."
Changes that accompany technology implementations vary. No matter how minor a change may seem, it is important to remember that someone, somewhere will be impacted and reactions to change can range from enthusiasm to anxiety. While some people will embrace change, resistance to change can undermine user acceptance of new technology.
What do public safety agencies recommend? Recognizing the importance of managing change and starting the process early; do not wait until after cutting over to the new systems to start thinking about this issue. Here are some specific suggestions that we heard:
Involve stakeholders in planning for and selecting the technology; make sure end-user needs are considered in technology selection and configuration
Start managing expectations early – clearly communicate expectations about what the new technology is, what it will do, and the implications for the agency and its staff
Allow time for business process evaluation; make sure you understand what processes will change and how those changes will impact the organization
Consider revisiting all procedures and policies; this is the perfect time for a fresh start
DELTAWRX consultants are experts in organizational change and can help you develop a practical plan to navigate the inevitable changes. Because, as one respondent said: “Change will happen. It can't stay the same forever, be ready as an organization.”
2. Take the Time to Negotiate a Sound Contract
“Take your time when doing the contract - dot your Is and cross your Ts.”
“This project did not have significant lessons learned. It was a smooth process for our agency due to [the] details of our contract.”
“Get everything in the contract.”
Public safety agencies recommend taking the time to negotiate a thorough contract. Be aware when negotiating though, because just as you intend to hold your vendor accountable to the agreement, the vendor will also hold your agency accountable. As one agency noted: “[The vendor] will revert to your contract and you need everything in writing.”
DELTAWRX is a proponent of negotiating all contract elements and details before signing a contract. Whenever possible, we make sure the contract includes a complete and detailed Statement of Work with supporting documentation (e.g., a testing plan and interface specifications). This approach saves our clients time and money in the long run by clarifying expectations and minimizing disputes over scope and budget issues.
DELTAWRX’s expertise in public safety technology, experience with technology implementations, and knowledge of contract components, terms and conditions can help your agency negotiate a contract that minimizes risk and protects your agency’s financial investment.
3. Be Cautious About Converting Legacy Data Into Your New System
“There is no need to put bad data in your new system.”
“Don’t trust data conversion will work and go fast – and verify, verify, verify.”
Experience with converting legacy data into a new system varied from complete success to complete failure and, as one might expect, advice on whether to convert data varied accordingly. Despite the range of advice, public safety agencies concur about the need to be cautious when converting legacy data into a new system.
DELTAWRX advises our clients to think carefully about their objectives for converting data. Do you really need to convert your data or do you just need to be able to access your legacy data? If you decide that you really do need to convert your data, do you need to convert all your data or just some of your data?
“We entered all the data ourselves, which was actually good because it gave us the chance to clean up and validate the database.”
“Don't convert data. Pay a little overtime and have your very critical CAD data entered manually. That will suffice.”
“Eventually we migrated the legacy database to a web-based SQL system to allow users to search this data.”
Data conversion requires resources to clean up and validate the data in the legacy database before migrating it to the new database, as well as resources to validate the results of the data migration (e.g., make sure the right data is in the right fields). Depending on the number of legacy files and fields that you want to migrate to the new system, you may want to consider simply retyping the information into the new system. If you are going to electronically convert data, public safety agencies recommend making sure your agency personnel involved in the conversion have enough operational knowledge to confirm that the data transfers into the new system accurately and appropriately.
DELTAWRX has the experience to identify your agency’s data conversion needs, walk through possible data conversion options and work with you to develop a feasible strategy for accessing legacy data.
4. Establish a Project Governance Structure and Implementation Team Thoughtfully
“Make sure you have sufficient, competent and appropriate staff as well as the executive support to support a methodical implementation.”
“This is a long-term investment that should be treated as such.”
One of the most common questions DELTAWRX is asked is “What can we do to make sure our IT project is a success?” Our answer is consistent: executive level support, a dedicated project manager, a well-defined and inclusive governance structure and a consistent, intelligent, experienced project team that represents impacted stakeholders. Public safety agencies agree:
“Be transparent. Develop a strong governance model that involves stakeholders at all levels, from elected officials all the way down to line dispatchers, firefighters and officers.”
A governance structure should include appropriate stakeholder representation and provide a mechanism for decision-making at the appropriate level.
The lessons learned that we heard about the importance of a dedicated project manager and a consistent, intelligent project team is aligned with DELTAWRX’s advice. Public safety agencies recommend dedicating highly qualified and highly motivated staff to the project team for the duration of the project. Although it is tempting to staff IT projects with personnel on sick leave or who are not shining in their current positions, agencies advise otherwise. You want your best, your brightest and your informal leaders in these important roles.
“Don't have your sick and lazy squad be your implementation team; try to get good people who will be on the team over the duration of the project.”
“Make sure you have sufficient staffing to support implementation. Your internal team members must have a high aptitude for learning and be able to see beyond the old system. People must be open to change and help socialize the change.”
“Don't just rely on your early adopters - you want the system to work for all your employees.”
The agencies with whom we spoke also advise against relying exclusively on young, technologically-savvy employees because “More experienced employees had a lot of interesting insights during system implementation.” Rather, “Include a range of users on your implementation team; a mix of people comfortable with new and changing technology and those who are slower to embrace it.”
DELTAWRX can put your project on the track to success by helping you develop a project governance structure and a project team, including projecting how much time each member will need to dedicate to the project each quarter from project kickoff through post-cutover testing.
We hope that you have found these lessons learned helpful! For more information about how to make your information technology project a success, or to discuss the services that we provide, please contact us here.
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