Change management in the Cloud era

I have had quite a few questions recently regarding the introduction of Cloud or SAAS solutions, how it impacts organizations and what change management techniques should be applied for a SAAS implementation program.

The classical on-premise ERP implementation runs in 5 phases – preparation, blueprint design, realization, final preparation, and go-live, with most emphasis on blueprint and realization which requires significant resources and time, involvement of key stakeholders and process owners etc.

SaaS implementations usually require less time and resources than on-premise software implementation. A SAAS / Cloud solution is basically set up, configured, data are transfered/migrated, tests are performed and then you are ready to go – with significantly less configuration, customization and development.

If looking at SAAS / Cloud from an end user point of view, there are both advantages and challenges when comparing traditional in premise implementations

On the upside, cloud / SAAS solutions are typically intuitively designed, with a strong emphasis on simplicity and usability, which makes it more attractive from and end-user POV. Also, since the level of customization and the level of deep systemt integration is typically minimal, implementation schedules are significantly shorter than the typical ERP implementation, sparing the organization from the exhausting implementation schedules of major ERP programs.

However, there are also a number challenges from an organizational PoV. The limited availiability of customization options may ensure a quick system implementation, but that doesn’t mean that the processes, roles, responsibilities, skills and behaviours are in place to ensure process efficiency and business impact.

The temptation to implement the solution very quickly needs to be carefully considered. A cloud solution can, at least in theory be set up without any organizational involvement what so ever. However, if this is the case, it will most certainly be seen as something that is imposed on the organization which increases the risk for resistance and delayed / insufficient user adoption. Thus, it is important to ensure early information to the organization about the solution selection process, and to design an effective involvement program around the redesign and implementation of the business process that the Cloud solution is supposed to support. Kotters recent concept of a strategy network may be useful way of organizing the involvement, however that network may be extended or limited based on the scope and impact of the solution in question, and supported by social collaboration tools to enable an ongoing conversation about the implementation.

The more we get into the cloud, the larger the need to embed those “virtual” processes with physical reality. With an increasing variety of systems residing in the cloud, the risk that users “forget” is increasingly obvious. User friendly employee portals that “connect the dots”,  supported by offline communication, dedicated process ownership and direct management information are some of the tools available to ensure sustainable user adoption over time.

A particular group that is highly affected by cloud solutions is the IT department. Introducing cloud solution effectively means diminishing the power and resources of the IT department, which is why significant resistance can be expected. Plans need to be in place to handle this, in particular those responsible for the solutions to be phased out, but also the managerial level that may be concerned about their career options.

To sum up, most of the traditional change management techniques can be applied also for cloud/SAAS implementations. One could even argue that change management increase in importance, given the lack of “natural” involvement in cloud/SAAS implementation projects.

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