How to run a successful pilot program in IT

How to run a successful pilot program in IT

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November 30, 2016
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Running a pilot program is an ideal way to experiment with emerging technologies and identify their potential for meeting your business needs. In your pilots, look for suitability to purpose, avoid change management obstacles, and assess solution reliability and viability. Consider a few pilots that stretch the boundaries of what you do today. Of course, you should have a good idea of how the pilots will solve business problems.  

Also consider integration of the pilot technology. Can the pilot solution be integrated with the rest of your technology portfolio? Be aware that there may be varying degrees of integration required, depending upon how broadly you plan to deploy the pilot solution. If you’re looking to deploy, for example, a tax system that’s only used by your tax department, it requires a different level of integration than a communications tool that touches every person in the enterprise and uses multiple data sources inside and outside the organization.  

We’re currently executing a pilot program to deploy a new communications tool to address a few specific technology and business challenges. Our goals are to increase associate engagement, decrease our reliance on email, and become more real-time in our decision making. We're also planning to reduce the number of communications platforms in use by our associates.  

We’re running the pilot in collaboration with our R&D organization. They asked for our engagement and requested that we jointly pilot the tool. We partnered with them to frame the vendor dialog, the security considerations, and the integration with our single-sign-on solution. We’re jointly rolling out the change management plan, user education and naming conventions to our community of users. The R&D team has taken a strong lead on the change management and education required for the pilot. Ultimately, we in IT will bring in other parts of the organization. 
I'm a strong supporter of pilots because they enable an IT organization to satisfy the requests of our business partners without over investing or committing to a project that is ultimately not viable. Where agility, flexibility, and quick deployments are important, pilots are key because they provide a good view of issues like cost, vendor engagement, and change management. Additionally, pilots enable you to bolster your partnership with your business. That can increase the level of trust as you start to deploy the technology on a wider scale. As you encounter problems or issues, you have an established team in place that is familiar with the solution and can tackle the problems together.  

As you move beyond the pilot phase and begin to think about your long-term implementation plan, you should also consider your exit strategy. Many technology solutions are going to become obsolete in two to four years. At that point you must be ready to move to a modern replacement. Make sure that you have an exit strategy for your data. Don’t over-customize or hardwire too many solution dependencies into your business processes. As the pace of technology change continues to accelerate, developing your exit strategy will become an increasingly important element of your technology pilots.

If you have the resources and flexibility to experiment with pilot programs within your organization, I encourage you to do so. Pilots can help you find the best solutions for your specific business challenges, and they can also provide opportunities for IT to engage and collaborate with your business partners in a new way.

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Lee Congdon is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Ellucian, the leading independent provider of higher education software, services and analytics. He is responsible for Ellucian’s information technology, including enabling the business through technology services, information technology strategy, delivering next generation solutions, process improvement and advanced data and analytics. 

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