Updating your IT systems: A guide to avoiding nightmare rollouts

Many billions are spent on software upgrades and rollouts annually. A few extra billions are also spent repairing the damage they do and rolling them back. 

When handled properly, software upgrades can prove to be a seamless transition to a new and brighter future for your company. The problem is that there are two sides to every coin, and not all rollouts are indeed “handled properly”.

updating system rolloutsPlenty of IT rollouts come with problems — from staff who are unhappy with changes and software that doesn’t do its job right, all the way up to issues like customers being unable to pay for products and systems just not working at all.

To take our metaphor a little further, is this all just a flip of a coin? Are you at the mercy of fate, throwing caution to the wind and seeing if you land on heads for a good rollout or tails for a bad one? 

Far from it. 

Those nightmare rollouts you’ve seen reported in the media are the result of processes breaking down during both planning and implementation stages. This guide to updating your systems can help you avoid the harsh reality of a poorly handled system change and make sure that coin lands facing heads.

Work with your team (and your customers) to find the right solution

The primary objective of new IT systems is to make something better. You might be looking to replace outdated software, increase productivity with new tools or provide an improved customer experience.

With that in mind, before you even consider a new IT system, you need people to buy into the idea while also providing something that offers solutions to genuine problems.

Successful software rollouts are all about working collaboratively with those for whom your rollout is intended to benefit. Finding the right solution for your IT performance requires understanding what problems your team and customers are trying to solve and ensuring that new systems don’t accidentally provide them with new ones. 

Listening is key. 

Listen to problems, find solutions. Listen to concerns, act upon them. Value is subjective. What you see as an impressive and powerful new update may be looked upon as a hindrance by others. 

Know what you’re buying

We all get sold on an idea. 

“Feature-rich,”  “work enhancing,” “next level productivity tools.” 

Sales materials can make software sound like everything we need, but as many businesses can attest to, sometimes the green grass isn’t all it’s promised to be. 

Features are important, and promises made might be genuine, but the only way you’ll know for sure is to get granular with details from your supplier.

During the buying stage, software demonstrations are essential. They allow you to dig deep into the system you’re going to be using and work out if its features do apply to your business in the way you need them to. 

The vendor may tell you that their software can “turbo-charge your customer engagement”, but until you know what that looks like in real terms, caution is recommended. Make sure you know what your upgrade is capable of and what it’s not going to provide you before you start using it. 

Product demos also provide another purpose — they allow you to start learning how your system is going to work. Rolling out a new service that nobody can use won’t help anyone, no matter how good it looks or what kind of functionality it has. 

Risk assess all supporting IT structures

Before you introduce your new software solutions to your IT network, consider if your current infrastructure will be able to support it. Updated systems are no good if they aren’t compatible with what’s left behind by your changing tech. 

In the case of an eCommerce platform, an example would be upgrading a product management system without assessing if current server capacity can store and process all required data. Another example would be a restaurant introducing a state-of-the-art customer ordering platform for smart devices without testing it on available hardware.

The key takeaway is this:

The benefits of an upgrade can be dazzling, but don’t let that distract you from the reality of what introducing it means for your current IT system. If effective foundations are not laid, you’ll quickly find that the update doesn’t fit within your business process.

Inform all necessary parties in advance

Who is the update going to affect?

Often, an update will cause some kind of system downtime as installation is complete. During this service outage, different parties will be affected.

If you are updating your customer service management software, for example, you’ll find that departments like customer services, sales and HR will experience disruption. Your customers will also face that same disruption.

It’s important to inform anyone who might be affected by system updates and downtime well ahead of the update rollout. 

For your internal teams, this allows for plans to be put in place to mitigate the impact of downtime. For external parties, such as customers or partners, this can help prevent disruption to their lives by avoiding contact when the rollout takes place, as well as making arrangements for required work or contact to a schedule that fits around your update.

Fail to keep parties informed, and you face unhappy workers and disgruntled customers. Most people are accepting of disruption they understand and can plan for. But surprise upsets to routines or plans are much more likely to result in a negative response. 

Stagger your software rollout

Rushed rollouts are risk-prone rollouts. There are two reasons for this:

  • You cannot test the waters to see if they’re safe.
  • You may not implement the software properly.

Let’s address each of these problems in turn. 

Testing is important. Testing ensures we know something works as intended. If you commit to enterprise-level software updates that are pushed out across the entire business at once, you won’t know if there are problems in your implementation until everyone is using the system. 

One problem can then impact your entire business. 

If instead, you stagger rollout between teams, departments or sites, you can test and observe. You can see how a small-scale rollout works and if it’s successful. Good news moves you forward; bad news means you’ve only got to manage problems in a finite area of your company.

Our next problem is all to do with barreling through setup and implementation without performing your due diligence checks. If your deadlines for installation are too tight, your technical team can get overwhelmed and make mistakes. They might not introduce software with appropriate attention to detail or integration with your current processes. As a result, you may end up with an update that doesn’t work as intended because there wasn’t enough time to establish all of its capabilities properly. 

The solution to this potential nightmare is also in a staggered approach. 

Make the time to implement each element of your new software properly and systematically. Take on a “piece-by-piece” implementation structure, looking at each function of the system as an individual task to be addressed and completed, rather than looking at the rollout as a single, larger entity that must be done all at once. 

This approach will take more time, but it will also result in a more stable end product, dramatically reducing the potential need for recovery action.

Get support from experts

Experienced IT consultancy is a powerful and often untapped weapon in the arsenal of a business looking to roll out new IT systems. 

You can hire a consultancy firm to help source and install the solutions, or they can simply be brought on board as an impartial advisement, management and monitoring team.

The benefit here is not simply in well-practiced implementation but also in working with an expert who possesses both a keen eye for spotting potential or developing issues, as well as the skills required to keep them under control should they arise. 

An apt analogy of employing an IT consultancy firm for software rollout would be to compare the service to security for a large public event. 

If everyone plays nice and gets along, then they’re simply there to watch and observe. However, if something starts to kick off — which it usually does — they are on-hand to stop a small problem from turning into a catastrophe. 

Like a security team, an IT consultancy firm can also advise on strategy and best practices, point out where problems are more likely to occur and offer ways to manage those risk factors.