It’s not new to say that technology is having a significant impact on modern life. As technology becomes smaller, cheaper, and faster, staying up-to-date can be challenging.
This is especially true for public sector organizations where procurement hasn’t caught up to new ways of using or implementing technology. As government works through modernization, implementing large-scale technological upgrades takes planning and people skills.
We spoke with David Couch, Associate Commissioner at the Office of Knowledge, Information and Data Services for the State of Kentucky about how he managed to seamlessly upgrade the technology platform of all 174 school districts in Kentucky. He gave us some tips to help manage the process and ensure your people make it through the upgrade as well as your computers.
Planning should be more than a checklist
At the outset of this project, Couch was faced with a tough decision. The Kentucky School Districts were operating with on-site technology to manage school record keeping systems. That technology had reached the end of its lifecycle, making this upgrade more than buying updated software licenses.
“Essentially, we were at a point where we would have had to architect new on-site solutions for each school district, sacrificing features, and we would have had to make sure each district had the technology in place. That’s when I decided we needed to push for a cloud system so we could cut that out,” Couch explained. This would be unchartered territory for the school systems and a tall order for state IT staff.
“When you think about a project like this, you have to go through the total cost of ownership and what that means,” Couch said. For a significant systems upgrade to be successful, the project plan can’t just be a few boxes on a checklist. You need to start with a deep understanding of where things are now, how you got there, where you want to go, and the costs and benefits of getting there.
Kentucky had already been successful with lower-hanging fruit. IT staff moved the state over to cloud-based email, so there was an existing frame of reference for budget directors and IT staff in terms of what cloud services could offer, and how to work through an upgrade.
Couch took the beginning project analysis one step further by showing the total cost of ownership for the school district upgrade from day one through the end of the implementation process. This enabled stakeholders to understand before the project began what it was going to take to do and what they would get at the end.
Skip over vendors, find partners instead
When all was said and done, the Kentucky project upgraded systems effecting hundreds of thousands of students and thousands of teachers. The data centers powering this change would be located a thousand miles away. Couch says it is important to work with companies that are going to come into a project like that as partners not just vendors. “A partner is going to tell you when their stuff isn’t going to work for what we need. A vendor is going to sell you on something no matter what.”
By going into meetings with potential vendors armed with clear cut requirements from systems to security and disaster recovery, he was able to find a partner company with a proven track record. Then, he worked with that company to craft an implementation plan that met each technical requirement.
Manage people as well as you manage systems
For organizations going through a big upgrade like Kentucky’s, it’s very easy to get caught up in the technical and leave out the human element. IT shops can craft and implement the greatest technology system in the world, but if the people can’t use it you’ve got a problem. The change management portion of the project is as important as a total cost of ownership analysis; in fact, there should be some overlap between the two. If it takes hours of training to manage a system, the realities of that need to be factored into the cost.
Couch and the vendor created webinars designed for end users that walked them through the new system and workflow. That webinar was available for replay if people needed to go through it a few times or come back to it when they had questions. In-person staff was also on hand to help out.
Getting this piece right was critical. Couch and his staff were upgrading 10 districts per month for a total implementation timeline that lasted less than two years. By most procurement standards, that’s a lighting fast turnaround.
“Once people realized how easy it was to work with the new system, we had a lot of adoption,” Couch said. “Frankly, the fact that the implementation has been mostly met with silence is a good thing. If it wasn’t working, I would have heard about it.”