How an L.A. department fought off user resistance

Three and a half years ago, the Los Angeles city government’s US$11 million purchasing and accounts payable software implementation was looking imperiled.

Among the more glaring snafus that turned up was a bill to the police department for $750,000 (all figures U.S.) for a shipment of citation books worth only $7,500. A number of the city’s departments also complained about poor help desk support and glitches leading to inventory shortages and late payments to suppliers.

One of the sources of the trouble was resistance from users, particularly in those departments that, as a result of an implementation of PeopleSoft Inc. software, were losing their application support, personnel and buying authority, said Robert Jensen, assistant general manager in L.A.’s department of general services.

“We weren’t popular,” he said. “Change is hard, so the police and fire and sanitation departments were leading the charge to go back to the thrilling days of yesteryear.”

However, according to Jensen, after a Computerworld U.S. article detailing the rollout’s woes appeared, the mayor himself intervened, urged all the departments to comply, and things changed for the better.

Training was a major problem to overcome. For one thing, department heads weren’t sending the users who were supposed to go, and the company that was sponsoring the training wasn’t well versed in the nuances of the city’s procedures. That was when the general services department switched to its in-house staff to handle the training and made sure every end user was certified on the new system.

The department also communicated with its 8,200 vendors and explained to them “exactly what they needed to do to get paid,” which involved such mundane tasks as making sure they knew where to send their invoices. Additionally, the department did a survey of every complaint and spent a weekend answering them all, both the frivolous and the serious. On top of that, said Flora Chang, director of systems, the department held weekly meetings with users and answered all of their questions. The meetings eventually ceased when the the users didn’t need to come anymore. Chang also sent out an electronic newsletter with answers to user’s queries.

The help desk logged all of the trouble tickets and analyzed each to decide if the problem could be addressed through training or change management, or whether it was the result of a technical bug.

The efforts paid off as user acceptance grew, Jensen said. “I always knew it would work if we got everyone on board and they bought into it,” he explained. “You can have a best-of-breed system, the best integration, the best project team and the best program that comes in on time and on budget and it can still fail. It can still fail because everyone doesn’t get bought into the change, and that happens more times than it doesn’t. It’s change management.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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