28 Feb 2024

Preparing for technology-driven change - what do you need to know?

Alan Perestrello, MD of consultancy Hart Square explains what associations need to consider and ask when preparing for technology-driven change.

Are you changing your technology? Are you struggling to use your current platforms for ongoing improvement? Whether a new implementation or an optimisation project - change - is difficult.  

Technology projects are often complex involving multiple stakeholders, having not only the right technology partner but the right relationship with your tech partner is critical. To get the most from any relationship, you need to ask yourself and your potential or current technology partners, the right questions.

We talked to Alan Perestrello, MD of consultancy Hart Square, which gives non-profit organisations independent advice on partner selection and technology challenges. He shared his insights on what associations need to consider and ask when preparing for technology-driven change.

1. What are your association’s needs and how do they enable your strategy (not a platform features wish list)?

We often see organisations do a technological lift and shift - a like-for-like replacement of old systems with new. This is because they are focused on features that support current processes and objectives. But if your organisation’s strategy has changed, you’re just replicating the old system in the new. What’s your overall objective? 

Your partners need to help you figure out what needs to change and then support that change through a new solution. The solution could be a more efficient process, a better member interaction, or a new digital service. Have a strategic conversation and find out what benefits have been realised with other clients without just focusing on features?

Be clear about what you value so that your tech partner can respond accordingly. What you need isn’t always what you want - needs are always more important than wants. You need your partner to be a critical friend who can show you the difference.

 2. Can you have honest conversations?

It might sound obvious but organisations are not always honest with themselves, let alone their partners - especially around internal capabilities and resources at the outset of the relationship. 

Whether it’s a new project or ongoing improvement the starting point should be the budget and that can shape your project vision. Talk to your team about what you’re looking to achieve and what is realistic with the budget and other resources (people and time) that you have. Organisations often underestimate how much they’ll need to be involved in a technology transformation project. Help is available but you need to do an honest assessment to set the project and strategy up to succeed.

A good tech partner will engage with you on your budget and help you work out how to spend it best. This opens up useful conversations about your strategy - what is a good strategic investment for your budget? Sharing your budget with a partner at the outset can be tricky as it’s about trust and should be built on a solid working partnership but it will also give you and your partner the ability to plan and ensure that you have the resources when you need them.

Also, don’t assume that all partners can work the same way as you. A partner will have a specific way of working. During the selection process, you need to ask how they work and understand if you can see yourself working that way.  Can you work their way or will you insist that they work your way? Can they do that? Who is best placed to make that change?

  3. Are you clear about responsibilities?

Both you and your tech partner need to have a clear understanding of who is doing what, during the project - from data and content migration to Testing and Training - and beyond. Ask whether you have the right skill sets in your team. And what you can do to address any shortages.

When you’re looking at partners, think about whether they are going to be best suited to you considering the people who you have available on your team and their skills. If you want to go for a big solution - where are the resource gaps? Will those gaps just be there for the project or are they permanent?

What’s important is getting the digital foundations right. You need to invest the right amount of time and energy. Passing it on to your partner or trying to do it yourself when you're backfilling and doing it on top of day jobs doesn’t work. If you can’t do it, be realistic and outsource the work to someone who can provide you with those skills.

    4. Do you know which internal skills you need beyond implementation?

Implementation of a new platform is a major project but it's the beginning, not the end of any successful technology strategy. Change is now the only constant so your solution needs to be able to evolve with that change. After your new platform has launched you need to review whether tasks that weren’t addressed during the project are still valid. Then it’s a question of what you want and need going forward. 

Your new platform is now your product and it needs management, care and attention. Ideally, you need a single product owner throughout the project. This should be one person who can own it and the changes and keep records. This is not the same thing as a project manager; ideally you want them to be different.

They need to ensure internal conflict is avoided and translate your association’s needs to your partner.  They need to have the responsibility and authority to make decisions about the product on behalf of the organisation.

    5. Can you create a culture for change?

You don’t need to be a change management expert to know that organisational change needs managing. The first thing to do is to understand the scale of change that is required. You need to be able to assess its impact and the people, resources and time needed to make it happen. 

To do that you need to know where you’ve done it before - do you have meaningful experience in a similar size of change?  Do your team members? Does your partner? Can you assess what worked well and what didn’t? 

And if they or you don’t, what is the appetite for change? Change is as much a mindset as a skill set. Do you have the right team, are they all pulling in the same direction and do they understand (and agree) with what you are trying to achieve?

Having proper governance is also important - who is making the difficult decisions and what communication is in place to update people? You need to explain the value of your change to the organisation, team and individuals so that they understand why it matters to them.

Finally, ask how you ensure that as your organisation changes, the project adapts to those changes? If it can't, what do you do? Deliver the project then make the change or change the product to deliver the change?

Your partner is there to support you in asking the right questions to ensure successful project delivery and continuing platform improvement.

Together you need to take the time to ask, and answer the right questions.

Alan Perestrello is MD of technology consultancy Hart Square

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