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Selecting and implementing a new system

Six reasons to consider enlisting a project manager


Financial institutions often find themselves having outgrown one or more of their systems, whether that is the core system, a loan origination system, an electronic document management system or any other significant, mission-critical technology. Perhaps their business has changed and they need a new system to meet those changing needs. Perhaps they have created a complicated web of auxiliary applications over the years, and the functionality or maintenance of that system is no longer sustainable or efficient. Perhaps they seek a new, integrated solution that will allow them to be more nimble as they react to ever-changing markets and customer demands. Whatever the reason, selecting and implementing a new system is a large and daunting effort for any financial institution. Hiring an experienced implementation project manager to lead that effort can help to make the process more efficient, less risky, and ultimately, more successful.

Here are six reasons to consider using an experienced project manager during your system implementation:

  1. To protect your interests. During the system selection process, you will hear from multiple vendors. They will present strong evidence for why their system best fits your needs and will describe a solution based on the requirements you mutually define. With the best system providers, all of that will happen and much more. However, while the vendor is very knowledgeable about their systems and how to manage the implementation of those systems, they are often not specifically knowledgeable about the other initiatives in process at your financial institution, your strategic goals and objectives, or the other third-party relationships that you might have. You need someone on your team who can focus on your unique circumstances and help to weave those into the system implementation.

    Using an experienced project manager for your implementation helps to maintain that balance between a true fit for your unique needs and the standard implementation your system provider is working toward. Your project manager will work with you to gain a deep understanding of what's really important to you, as well as a firm grasp of your current operations and processes, and then use that knowledge to guide the project and the system vendor to the optimal implementation for your financial institution. Additionally, an external project manager should give you an unbiased perspective on the status, issues and risks related to the implementation, because he or she is motivated only by a successful long-term implementation, rather than focusing on a standard implementation or motivated by internal politics.

  2. Systems providers recommend it. The preceding point (protect your interests!) might paint something of an antagonistic picture of the relationship between the system vendor and an implementation manager. When that relationship is managed well between experienced parties, the exact opposite is the case. Many system vendors will actually recommend that financial institutions bring in an implementation project manager, because it makes their work easier and more efficient and it helps to ensure a more successful implementation. A successful implementation means a happy client for the vendor, which can lead to more opportunities and referrals in the future. Nothing kills a system provider's profitability like a project that lingers due to poorly defined requirements and a mismatch between business need and technology. Vendors want an efficient and successful implementation just as much as you do!

  3. Effective project management is a rare skill. Why would system vendors recommend to their financial institution clients that they hire a separate project manager to manage the implementation of their system? Why wouldn't the vendor want to play that role themselves? The answer is two-fold. First, there are nuances to a system implementation that can be addressed much more effectively by an experienced project manager. Financial institutions often operate in a very lean environment, and they rarely have strong, savvy or experienced project managers on their team. Secondly, while the vendor will have their own project manager on their team, they know that their project manager likely does not have the time or capacity to understand and address the unique circumstances surrounding each customer's implementation. Having an experienced implementation project manager on the financial institution's team helps the vendor understand and incorporate those nuances and leads to a more successful implementation and happier clients for the vendor.

  4. Your people have day jobs. When was the last time anyone on your staff led a significant conversion or system implementation project? Converting to a new system is a huge undertaking for any financial institution. It will require significant work from many of your employees. While you may not have official project managers on your staff, you probably have people who are good at getting things done, managing progress toward timelines and holding others accountable. Understandably, project management duties often fall to these people. However, they likely already have a set of responsibilities, and their time might be better spent focusing on other areas of the implementation or your business as a whole.
  5. Additionally, these individuals are likely always asked to take on these extra duties, and too often, that can lead to burnout and the loss of a valuable employee. Using an external project manager allows your employees to focus on getting their important work done, while someone else manages the timelines, budgets, issue resolution, communications and risks.

  6. A translator between the business and the technology saves time. With any new system or even any new business relationship, there is a learning curve on both sides. The vendor needs to learn your processes, your terminology and how you operate. You need to learn their terminology, their system and how you will use that system in your financial institution. Experienced implementation project managers race up that kind of learning curve for a living. They know what questions to ask of your employees and of the vendor, how to spot potential problems or gaps in understanding and how to translate between the business language and the technical language to ensure mutual understanding and vision.

  7. To have the improved ability to identify and address specific issues as they arise. Experienced implementation project managers have been through several implementations, and have learned how to spot potential risks or opportunities for improvement. This can include complex technology issues, compliance concerns or risk management concepts. Additionally, the best project managers have access to a network of experts who can help investigate and resolve issues as they arise. These ad hoc, specialized consulting resources can be invaluable to your successful implementation.

Choosing and implementing a new system is a very large undertaking for any financial institution. Having a project manager to help you drive a successful implementation simply makes sense, for all the reasons listed above and one more. You can sleep at night knowing that you have an experienced, committed leader on the job to help ensure your system implementation is a success.