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Transforming to New Data Systems

In the age of digital manufacturing, data systems have become more critical. The migration to these services from physical or existing digital systems requires thorough planning and a solid connection to business processes.
Sep 16, 2021

In the age of digital manufacturing, data systems have become more critical. The migration to these services from physical or existing digital systems requires thorough planning and a solid connection to business processes. Some may think the starting point is vendor selection. That is closer to a second milestone. Verifying and validating the current methods and practice is step one. Finally, implementation is not the end; the journey continues much longer after.

The transition starts the moment your company decides there is value in a new system. What does this mean? Before beginning the search for the perfect product and vendor for service, you should take this significant time to set the company up for a successful change. How? Understanding your products, workflows, and deliverables is paramount to starting the process. This goes beyond assuming an individual knows the process. This information set is vital to the subsequent phases of the project. The information has to be scalable to a large number of people who don't know your process. Some probing questions and considerations to assess your readiness are:

  • Have updated documentation of processes and SOPs before the start date of transition. 

  • How well do you know your company's products? How are they managed (marketed, evaluated)? Who uses the products? Is there a cost (or are they free)?

  • What are other connected systems?

  • Who are the decision-makers for implementation?

  • How do you manage change in processes?

Vendor selection is the next critical step in the process. When it comes to software, there is always the debate between off-the-shelf or custom solutions. CSG outlines the dilemma: "The decision between a custom piece of business software and a pre-packaged solution is one that can have far-reaching consequences that are felt years down the road. It's imperative that you make this decision with the long-term ramifications in mind. Short-term pain will often lead to long-term gain, while the unenviable opposite can also be true." The key is a broad search to validate the decision: Interview vendors; demo the products; test plan initiatives; involve staff heavily to confirm the product is best suited for your company. Getting the SMEs involved early (setting basic timelines, understanding their departments' calendar and how the transition would affect their projects and daily tasks) is important because SMEs with extremely busy schedules can begin to identify backup or other SMEs from their departments to assist early on. A vendor and the new system must meet the company’s operational needs (and possible future wish list items). No one knows your business practices better than you do! So be prepared to share this information in detail. 

Ready for go-live? Not quite; There are substantial tasks required before getting into the new system. 

  • Review, update, and document processes and SOPs at a minimum of three to six months before searching for a vendor. The project lead may already have key vendors in mind, but prior to vendor interviews, the project lead should have access to all documented processes on how your company or departments operate daily. 

  • Determine the budget. The more you know about the needs and operations of your company, the better off you will be at setting a realistic budget. 

  • Delegate tasks to staff. SMEs:  Knowing "who" does "what" saves time and money! An SME will be instrumental during a system transition that will require all hands on deck at some point. They can also determine the best staff members to help complete tasks assigned to them.

  • Set expectations, roles, and goals of staff early. It is important to be clear and communicative early on to set a precedence of expectations during the actual transition and testing period.

  • Determine a realistic timeline. Knowing the ins and outs of SOPs can dramatically decrease the transition time by allowing staff to easily pinpoint outdated processes, and it provides the vendor with a clear snapshot of the needs of the company. 

  • Develop a plan of action. If you have managed to review, update, and gather documentation of how your company and staff operate and have identified SMEs (and their backups), you can start putting together a plan of action. A good idea would be to divide the timeline into significant milestones.

The core of a successful transition to a new data system is dependent on the documented knowledge of business processes and scope more than the system itself. The new system is a vehicle for the team to execute the needs of a business. This requires a strong foundation of the current state and incremental improvement for a more efficient future state.

Vanesa Powers
Data Management Specialist
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