Strategies for a Successful Migration: What School Districts Should Know Before Implementing a New Financial Management System

by Linda Daniels, K12 Enterprise Implementation Manager

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” — Alexander Graham Bell

Replacing your financial system is not a process you take on frequently, so planning is essential. It’s likely you’ve been running your current system for 15 –20 years. During that time, technology has changed significantly. The following tips will help your school district maximize the payoff from your investment and minimize the disruption from the change.

Identify and Define Users and Their Roles

First you’ll need to identify all users of the system, which includes identifying users by name and job function. Next, what are the users’ roles? Roles should be defined by what your employees do every day and what they need to get their jobs done. Taking the time to create a matrix by user and function will help expedite the process. This is a great opportunity to consider where you might want to implement some cross training.

Develop Your Plan and Your Team

A holistic plan goes beyond the software and includes infrastructure, interfaces, logistics, training, and more. Determine the processes to be automated and a timeframe to implement those processes. Keep in mind that you probably don’t want to change everything at once. Develop a project schedule that identifies deliverables and delivery dates, include a plan for some unexpected events. Institute a process to approve and document changes to the plan.

When selecting project team members, determine the critical role of project owner. This person will be ultimately responsible for the outcome of the project. Next, establish lead members for payroll and financials.

Build and Test

No plan is ever perfect. Therefore, the plan must be tested. Model the planned deployment in a test environment. Be sure to test all interfaces. Develop test scripts for all key activities. Include processes typically used to address exceptions and mistakes. Problems should be identified and corrected during the pilot phase. Process parallel transactions and compare key reports.

Review Before You Go “Live”

Before you go live, it’s imperative that you meet with key stakeholders to review and discuss the status of strategic goals and each functional requirement. This will help you identify any previously unknown or under-appreciated requirements that require either a new solution or work-around.

Build testing time into your project plan and daily routine. Providing staff with sufficient time pre-implementation to work with the system and test daily functionality is critical.

Make a decision on your Go-Live date. Make sure to inform all parties that will/could be affected.

Plan for any last-minute contingencies that could impact the “go-live” process.

Infrastructure & Deployment Options

Review your existing hardware and network environment to determine if you’re ready for the new system. Document the existing desktop and server hardware and operating systems and determine if you’ll deploy the system on premise or in the cloud.

Data Cleansing

Cleaning up and verifying the integrity of the data you bring over will save time and headaches in the long run.

Implementation Plan

  • Plan for 2-3 days on-site for the Discovery meetings: You and your vendor will discuss how you want the software to function in your environment, account code definitions, and project scope and estimates. Discussions about hardware, system-level software, and deployment options will also take place.
  • Determine a tentative schedule for training and actual implementation.
  • Next, convert your data and set up a test database.
  • 6-8 weeks before your proposed “Go Live” date, conduct training and leave a test database for testing and practice.
  • Your vendor should be on-site for the first two weeks of “Go Live” in addition to payroll week for two payroll cycles.

And finally, you’ll make the transition from the Implementation to Customer Care phase, which means your vendor will hand you off to their Support team.

Final Tips

If I had to break it down to just a few helpful hints, here’s what I’d share based on my experience with dozens of system implementations:

  • Involve your staff as much as possible – user acceptance makes an enormous difference.
  • Be prepared for unexpected staffing issues.
  • Expect some frustration due to the significant learning curve.
  • Testing by your staff is critical.
  • Be ready to make a go/no-go decision.

Good luck!