Information identified as archived on the Web is for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It has not been altered or updated after the date of archiving. Web pages that are archived on the Web are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats by contacting us.
Planning in Advance
Avoid the impulse to shop immediately for hardware once the decision to change systems or integrate a new automated system has been made. It is important to realize that a computer is only as useful as the programs run on it and that the type of programs or software needed must be determined first.
Think through the process of getting from where you are to where you want to be. The more you think it through, the better off you will be.
Make sure that, at the very least, you know how and when you are going to:
- Create a project team.
- Define your requirements
- Select hardware and software.
- Train your staff.
- Conduct a parallel test of your old and new systems so that you are sure that you get the same results from the same processes and data.
- Convert your old system data and load it to the new system.
- Redistribute your old hardware and software if applicable.
- who in your organization will use the new capabilities you plan to provide. What will the actual value of those capabilities be to your mission or your vision of the future for your organization? How will you measure that value to determine the return on your investment?
- the possibility of more than one person using one computer. Recognize that it may not be necessary to give everyone their own machine if they dont really need it. For instance, depending on their schedules, numerous researchers or part time staff could use the same machine. On the other hand, dont skimp on hardware if people actually will be making good use of the equipment. It is important to find a balance.
Some institutions, particularly larger ones, will also need to consider things like:
- Software modification, development and testing, particularly if purchasing highly customizable systems where modules for specific functions are not supplied with the system.
- Prototype development and testing for any unique reports, processes, or modules you contract to have written.
- User testing of each module.
- Total systems testing of the flow and functioning of all modules as they will work together on the computer hardware.
- Identification and resolution of any hardware and network issues.
- Training schedules and needs of different departments. Be aware of the schedules of both the implementation team and the users within each department.
- Data conversion problems.
Dont assume that your whole staff will be enthusiastic about getting your computer system out of the Dark Ages. Many people dont perceive the need for the features that modern technology brings. Still others find things like pull-down menus, graphical user interfaces, and a double-clicking mouse to be frustrating distractions instead of productivity-enhancing technologies. Try to strike a balance between the needs of each type of staff member. Keep staff informed and try to get them to buy-in early in the process. Gearing your introduction to technology changes to the various levels of staff needs will help smooth this process.
The biggest mistake is underestimating the human and organizational impacts, as well as the real dollars that it takes to do the job right and make the project a success. Take the time to look realistically at these before the project starts.
Some helpful hints:
- Ensure that all staff members have a say through surveys, staff meetings, interviews, etc.
- Dont force unwanted changes or upgrades if at all possible. Try to implement the change in stages to allow time to adjust, especially if you encounter resistance.
- Dont give your staff a reason to resist change or to tell their friends on your board how you are wasting the organizations money making unnecessary computer and software changes.
- Provide top quality support for computer hardware and software.
Don't assign responsibility to any staff member who may have only general knowledge of technology simply to avoid looking for the proper expertise elsewhere.
The Project Team
Implementing a computer system cannot happen haphazardly. Detailed plans must be properly established or the system will not work the way it was intended.
Dedicate a project team, representative of a variety of responsibilities within the museum, and a project manager to the project. Assign responsibility and authority for the project from the outset.
Base team selection on an objective look at your in-house capabilities, because replacing your computer system will have a significant impact on your institution. Dont use unqualified in-house people just because they are available and cheap. Be wary of the concept that anybody in the institution who has ever had anything to do with computers is capable of dealing with this project.
It takes time and skill to separate the emerging technology features you can use effectively from those you cant. It takes money, time, and skill to keep your computer hardware and software up to date and consistent over time. The project is important enough that you should take the time and effort necessary to select team members properly. It is important to recognize that you will be living daily with the chosen system for its entire life span. It is essential to take the time to choose it properly.
The Project Manager must:
- Establish a mandate, including defining the purpose and scope of the project, establishing authority, and defining limitations or boundaries.
- Define expectations, including both what will and what will not be accomplished by the project. This will help to avoid any future surprises caused by unrealistic expectations on the part of management and staff.
- Define a plan, including an overall plan plus details of each phase of the project. Be aware that the details of any phase may change as you complete earlier phases. It is often best to define an overall plan and the details of the phase that will occur next. Continue defining details of subsequent phases as the project proceeds. For each phase outline who, what, where, when and why.
- Assess the necessary time and resources, including establishing levels of involvement for every person affected by the new system. Be aware that the project will likely require more time and resources than anticipated.
- Make sure those involved are mandated to work on the project for specific periods of time. All too often projects such as this are implemented by someone assigned responsibility for this project as well as their regular duties. The daily duties often take precedence over the project. It is important to assign full time responsibility for a project of this scope and make sure that it does not take a back seat to other duties.
- Assign areas of responsibility for team members including a detailed outline of each persons responsibilities.
One of the duties of the team should be to examine the technology and information currently available within the museum.
- running the new software on your current hardware. To do this you will need to examine the compatibility of the new system with your existing technology. Even if you choose this option you will need to spend some money on hardware. In order to incorporate the new software, some relatively minor expenses for hardware will be necessary.
- completely changing current hardware. If youve been thinking of making a change this may be the best time as the best time to change is when other changes are being made. Remember, however, that the selection of your software should come first.
- running the new software on a combination of both new and old hardware.
Team members will also be responsible for an examination of current collections documentation. New software will not solve the problems of the current system unless the problems are recognized and corrected before the new system is selected.
Task List for Managing a Computer System Change
Some tasks may be different but generally an overview of your entire project will include the following tasks:
- Develop your strategic business plan or at least outline a list of goals and objectives for the next year or two. Consider whether strategic plans are going to affect the system selection. For instance, if strategic plans emphasize travelling exhibitions, an area which was not previously a priority, this will effect your choice of software.
- Define all of your current and desired functional requirements based on your business plan or goals.
- Prioritize your functional requirements.
- Define your operational requirements i.e. how you want the system to operate in your organization.
- Prioritize your operational requirements either by assigning a numerical ranking or by rating functions as mandatory, nice to have, etc.
- Establish a project budget.
- Select an in-house project team, if the size of your organization warrants it.
- Select an in-house project leader (maybe yourself) and spend the time that will be required to do the project right from start to finish.
- Establish areas of responsibility and the corresponding authority to get the project done right.
- Conduct a software search using your functional requirements and budget as guides.
- Tentatively select between two and four software solutions for final evaluation.
- Determine the hardware requirements of each of your solution options and compare them to your budget.
- Depending on the scope of your requirements and the size of the project budget, either conduct a test of each functional module using some of your data at each vendors site or have each vendor come to your offices to demonstrate their solution using your data.
- Select the option that best fits your requirements and your budget.
- Develop requirements for the software modifications that are necessary for the selected package to pass your acceptance test.
- Develop data and system conversion plans, staff training plans, and implementation plans for the new system.
- Negotiate a purchase contract that includes progress payments for the vendor and your right to return the system for a full refund without penalty if it fails your acceptance test in a specified time period. Exercise your right to hold back a portion of the total payment until you are completely satisfied with your purchase.
- Execute your staff training, data and system conversion, and system implementation plans.
- Implement the new hardware and software system.
Make sure that the project team has management backing and authority and that staff are aware that they have it. It is essential that the plan they produce be approved and endorsed by senior management to provide the necessary authority to proceed. It is equally essential that the rest of the staff be made aware that the team has received approval and authority to complete the project.
Assessing Computer Skills
If you are fortunate and have people with computer skills on staff, determine whether or not you are comfortable enough with their knowledge, technical skills, people.
If you are comfortable with their skills, get them involved in this project early. Someone with these skills should be a member of the team. Be aware, however, that the project should not be directed by your computer staff or software judged solely on technical merit. If your institution does not have the skills, available time, and interstaff respect to entrust your projects success to them consider getting outside help.
If you dont have anyone doing full time computer system support work, you should definitely get outside help on your system upgrade or replacement project. You may want to consider using a consultant as an advisor to confirm the appropriateness of what you are doing. Consider getting consultants to provide input at the start of a phase to assist with setting directions and to have them involved at the end of a phase to confirm or adjust results. This will cut down on costly consulting fees while allowing you access to their expertise without having them run the project. More information on working with consultants can be found in Thomas J. Orlowski's book Smart Selection and Management of Association Computer Systems, Chapter 6.
Go to the exercise for this module.