Implementing new software in a higher education environment can be daunting. There’s always the risk of choosing the wrong software, moving too quickly (or too slowly), or picking an unreliable vendor. What if your student body has trouble adjusting? How will you address the confusion?
These concerns are understandable, but here’s the truth: A smooth, successful transition is well within the reach of most institutions. You can prevent those all-too-common pains from occurring in the first place by addressing these four questions from the start.
1. Does your decision have buy-in from all the necessary departments?
Even if only one person on your team has the final say, don’t move on your decision too quickly. You need buy-in from your entire staff for a new software launch to be successful, and you can get it by involving them in the decision-making process from the beginning.
Schedule a web demo with the software vendor before you purchase. Ask for feedback from all the key stakeholders, and send updates throughout the process to keep them informed.
2. Do the key players have the time and resources to make the transition?
Often, an administrator will find the perfect software, purchase it, and return to his or her team, eager to get started, only to find that key staff members don’t have the time to put it in place. This communication breakdown can cause frustration and confusion – two surefire ways to derail your implementation.
Instead, inform key stakeholders of their responsibilities in advance. Create a detailed plan of action to make it clear which users need to be involved in which parts of the process. Good software vendors will provide a sample plan for you. This strategy lays out appropriate expectations that lead to accurate timelines and happy stakeholders.
3. Does the vendor provide outstanding processes and support?
The vendor you choose to work with is almost as important as the product itself. Don’t sign any contracts without a clear project plan that outlines how long the process will take, which parties will be involved, and what the project milestones will be. You also can’t go wrong using a project planning software, such as JIRA or Microsoft Project, to keep your internal resources on track.
Don’t hesitate to dig a little deeper by asking for references from IT departments that have gone live with the implementation. This will confirm the vendor’s success stories and give you the opportunity to preview the product’s challenges and benefits from a customer’s perspective.
4. How will you get the word out to end users?
Like any campus-wide transition, new software is only successful if the end users (the students and faculty who will use it most) are happy with it. Market your new software with the following ideas:
- Brand the software. Name your new software after the college mascot to give the student body ownership of the change.
- Provide advance notice to key stakeholders. Email students to announce the new software before they need to use it, then meet with advisors, faculty, and student organizations to demonstrate it.
- Get creative with online and print assets. Use the college’s social media accounts and student newspaper to spread the message. You can also create a video tutorial to show students how to use the software and post it on YouTube.
Successfully implementing software at a higher education institution is a high-stakes challenge that involves planning, participation, and follow-through at every level. Reap the rewards of staff collaboration and involvement by using these four questions to guide your transition.