How to implement a new software system
Taking time to implement a new software system carefully minimizes problems, maximizes user adoption
By James Careless, P1 Contributor
The procurement process for purchasing a new police software system can be long and arduous. By the time the final step of that process comes around – implementation – project managers are often ready to move onto their next task.
These project managers and their staff need to resist this temptation, because software implementation is the most important part of the procurement process. Done poorly, and the software won’t perform as specified – both because the system hasn’t been deployed properly, and the users will become frustrated and hostile to using it.
To prevent this from happening and to get the most performance out of a new software installation, here are the steps that police administrators should follow.
Put competent people in charge
There’s a saying in the IT community: “Garbage in, garbage out.” It refers to the fact that putting flawed information into a computer program (in) will always deliver flawed results (out).
The same is true for a software deployment. If you put incompetent people in charge of the deployment, they can’t help but do an incompetent job. So choose your implementation leaders wisely; namely people with the IT and managerial skills to do the implementation successfully. (Hint: Check on their previous implementation successes and failures.)
Establish a realistic project schedule
The last thing you want is to schedule a completion date without first identifying all the steps it will take to get to that milestone. If the person doing the project schedule considers every step that has to be taken, as well as the amount of time and resource(s) each step requires, then they should be able to provide a realistic timeline for the software implementation.
Your agency plays a critical part in the deployment process, so key questions to ask in regard to constraints you may face include:
- Are key people available for the duration of the project?
- Do they have time, while doing their real jobs, to complete their assignments to keep the schedule moving forward?
- Are there any large events, holidays or vacations upcoming that will put a strain on your resources?
- Is there a large civic event scheduled at the same time you need to get your department trained perhaps?
Also be sure to consider all resources, like IT. Do they have a big project that needs to be completed before they can even start yours? Don’t give the vendor an excuse to delay the project schedule because of poor planning on your part.
Allocate adequate time and resources
To perform to its full potential, a new software system has to be carefully deployed by skilled IT people with access to enough work hours and technical equipment to do the job properly. So when it comes to planning the implementation, ask these IT people what they need to do the job right; not how quickly they can push it through with bare-bones resources.
Make sure that the people doing the deployment have the skills to do the job. And ask the software vendor for contacts at other departments who have already deployed this software, so that you can ask them about bugs, conflicts with other software systems and hardware platforms, and other unforeseen issues.
Get regular progress updates
A software implementation is like a car: You can’t take your hands off the wheel unless you are okay with crashing. If you aren’t, then schedule regular progress reports from your IT people on the implementation. Demand that they provide this in clear English (they can if pushed), with details on how any issues will delay rolling out the system to users.
Train the trainers properly
Remember the principle of “Garbage in, garbage out?” This also applies to training. If your trainers don’t know the software inside and out – and can communicate its features intelligibly to trainees – then your officers won’t know how to use it either.
Insist that the company getting paid for the software provide comprehensive training support. This means “training the trainers” in your department who will be instructing your officers on how to use the new software.
You can have the vendor train the users directly, as long as you’re comfortable with paying them on an ongoing basis to do so. If not, you need to take this expertise in-house, by having the vendor train your trainers and then taking control from then on.
Keep training simple and flexible
Police officers are busy people who hate paperwork. To win them over to a new software system, the training has to be a) easy and b) flexible time-wise.
If possible, have the training available on a web-based platform that the officers can check into at their convenience, but also set a verifiable deadline to complete the training, or some users will put it off indefinitely.
Allow for a testing period
Unexpected things happen during new software deployments. Make sure you have allocated enough time to test out the new system using a limited group of users first, so that any unforeseen issues don’t end up crippling your department.
After you do roll out the new system, ensure that the old system it replaced is alive and usable for a number of months before shutting it down for good. (Ask your IT people for advice on how long to do this; err on the side of caution.) Otherwise, your department could be in deep trouble should the first shot at implementation go pear-shaped.
Things will go wrong with your implementation.
Stay calm and cope when it does. (Thankfully you didn’t shut down the old system yet, right?)
Fix the problem(s).
Rinse and repeat, until all the major bugs are dealt with.
Then shut off the old system, but only after your IT people say it is safe to do so.
About the Author
James Careless is a freelance writer with extensive experience covering computer technologies and law enforcement topics.