About a year ago, I introduced a new database to a site that had previously maintained most of their information on Excel. We brought in a vendor who helped migrate the data into the new system. Last week, the Project Director told me (not to my surprise) that they wanted to move back to Excel.
Here’s what happened:
- When selecting the vendor, we chose someone who offered a reasonable price and who came with positive referrals. But based on staff feedback, there were signs early on that he was having difficulty translating our business flow into the new system.
- The data migration was done, but my co-workers didn’t spend enough time verifying that the data had come over successfully. By the time (later) they realized there were problems, it was more difficult to address them.
- The work ended up taking considerably longer than expected, creating some tension with the vendor (we had a maximum price contract).
- It was very difficult to move staff away from Excel, especially since we hadn’t made a clear enough business case for using a database instead of a spreadsheet (not obvious to most non-IT folk)
- We underestimated the training staff would need. We tried to fill in the gaps later, but by that time there was frustration with the new system.
- I tried to do damage control by bringing in a second vendor later (after we had stopped working with the first company) to handle support. They did a great job, but it still wasn’t enough to stem the bad feelings.
- I found out late in the process that staff were already using another database to enter data (required by a grant), which explained why they didn’t seem too eager to use the new system.
What could we have done differently to get a better result? Perhaps by focusing too much on a low price, we didn’t realize the importance of dedicating enough time to the discovery stage where our requirements would be fully detailed. We also could have done a better job in setting expectations about the implementation process - and to ask managers to require staff to learn and use the new database. Or, we could have picked a different site that had more of a pressing need (they were doing reasonably well with Excel and their ‘other’ database).
(Interestingly, at the same time that we began this project, we began another pilot project with an entirely different database, which staff seem to be much happier with.)
Moral? Choose your partner carefully, make sure system requirements are fully detailed, and make sure staff are required and motivated to use the new system.