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July 30, 2008

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Computerised risk assessments

Being faced with a new technology that aims to improve the way an organisation works can be a very daunting prospect. But with the right planning and support it can be made as trouble-free as possible, says Linda Easto.

The introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2008 has given compliance with health and safety law a shot in the arm. Companies are now under more pressure than ever to make sure that policies and reports are in place and properly documented, pushing health and safety up the boardroom agenda.

Until quite recently the only system available for companies to do this was by using a paper-based inspection-reporting approach. Although there is nothing wrong with this model — and it is certainly better than nothing — it can be a long and laborious process, with reports having to be written manually before being entered into a computer and sent off. Some are still sent by post, adding even more time to the reporting process.

Computerisation

New developments in technology have meant that this system can now be radically reformed with the introduction of computerised systems. The systems are able to automate the previously manual processes, as well as streamline the data collection, which, in turn, decreases the costs. Consequently, the time to complete tasks is dramatically reduced.

By using personal digital assistants (PDAs) inspectors and auditors can collect vital field-based information with a camera facility and mobile phone, and record all data on a central database. The system allows the standardisation of management information — and ensures there is only one version of the facts.

Progress means change

A change-management process is critical to the smooth implementation of a new software system/application. Many businesses haven’t been through the process of implementing new software, and therefore have no knowledge of how to go about introducing this change into their business structure. It can seem very daunting and may even put some businesses off making the change. A good change programme should be able to alleviate all of these fears.

Project sponsors

The first step is to identify the stakeholders within the business, and ensure that their support and buy-in is secured prior to implementation. Typically, successful projects involving change have a project sponsor, who carries both seniority and a budget. It is also vital that they understand their role in this process.

It is for the project sponsor to be actively involved in the project right from the very beginning. This will often start with the sponsor holding a project kick-off meeting involving the users and suppliers, outlining the project goals and resultant benefits to the business by implementing the change. Without the buy-in from all people involved in the project, the commitment and focus becomes very blurred and can lead to disastrous consequences, e.g. failure of implementation, failure of the workforce to accept change, a detrimental effect on budgets, etc.

However, project sponsors also need to understand both the importance of their own commitment to implementing training and support, and the way they communicate this change to the business.

Change champions

An essential part of the role of change champions is to begin to filter the change message through the business by identifying the key people who will support the shift in working practice that is required. These individuals will be put through the pilot phase of the implementation and, ideally, should include a cross-section of users.

They should also comprise a range of personalities, from those who are positive and open to trying out new ways of working, to people who understand the benefits that technology can deliver, to those who are resistant to change and not that technically-savvy.

Once selected, this core team should champion the new project, test functionality, ensure business processes are reviewed and improved upon, and communicate the changes in a positive way. It is also recommended that these champions get involved in the training prior to roll-out of the software. Consider, too, introducing some form of incentive for the champions. This could take the form of a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points scheme — or a bonus!

Change champions will be able to help identify pockets of resistance. These are inevitable with change but, more importantly, it is crucial to understand who they are so they can be addressed and their fears overcome. New technology can seem very daunting to many, especially to people who do not use it as part of their daily role.

Regular meetings and reviews need to be held with stakeholders, change champions, project team members, and the software provider. This ensures everyone involved knows what progress has been made and what the next steps involve.

The company supplying the software needs to spend time with the areas of the business that are going to be affected by the change, in order to ensure it understands the business processes. This enables the supplier to recommend improvements to ensure the software can be implemented smoothly and successfully. Clients feel more comfortable if their supplier continually supports them and does not leave them on their own to struggle.

Conclusion

A change-management process provides focus, direction and support for organisations faced with a new technology, which will ultimately improve their way of working.

To aid the smooth running of the implementation, a project manager from the software supplier should be appointed to work closely with the client, in order to plan the project and provide advice and guidance on the processes outlined above.

 

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