Change is inevitable when an organization deploys new technology and based on my experience, the management of that change is often the reason for failure to adopt the new technology. By nature, most people don't like to change, and change is often threatening, especially to employees that have been in their roles for a long time.
Change Management is critical to implementing an Accounts Payable (AP) Solution because failure means missed payments, damaged supplier relationships, and risk if invoices are not approved in a timely manner.
Change Management and Project Management are typically both required to enable change. But why is Project Management at the forefront, and there is little focus on Change Management? Most organizations realize that Project Management is essential to a successful project. We all know what a Project Manager is, and most of us are even familiar with the PMP certification for Project Managers. But how many projects have you been involved with that had a Change Manager?
The PMBOK Guide, Fifth Edition defines Project Management as:
Project Management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.
Project Management is accomplished through the appropriate application and integration of the project management process groups of initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing.
The PMBOK Guide does not define Change Management, although it does identify the need for integrated change control within the project, but that is more about controlling the scope of the project than managing change.
One definition of Change Management, provided by Prosci, is:
Project Management has gained relevance in the last decade. CIO magazine reports that by 2020, there will be 700,000 new Project Management jobs in the US. It could be that the concept of Change Management is just lagging behind Project Management. Or many organizations view Change Management as part of Project Management.
In either case, both of these disciplines are essential to any project but why is Change Management critical to an AP Automation project?
Project Management will ensure the project is completed on time, on budget and within scope, but Change Management will focus on the people and help them transition and adopt the technology and the new processes.
There are many areas of change that may be required when implementing an AP Solution. This article identifies three areas and then outlines three critical factors for successful Change Management.
Here are three areas of change that may need additional attention when implementing an AP solution.
- Paper to Electronic — If the existing documents are in paper format, the change that needs to be embraced goes far past just implementing the AP Solution. Aside from the technology, transitioning from paper to digital documents is an endeavor in itself. If you are old enough, do you remember making the transition from reading technical manuals in book format to electronic format? It wasn't an easy change. When it comes to invoices and the associated documents, AP Clerks may feel a sense of security when they can physically put their hands on a document or the ability to be the guardian of who else can view that document.
The change required in this situation is more than just adopting the AP solution. The users need to adapt to dealing with documents in digital format.
- AP Processor to Scan Operator — If you are coming from a paper-based process, and plan to tackle the digitizing of your paper internally, someone is going to need to scan and index the documents. This may sound easy, but it can be quite challenging, and if you are also incorporating OCR technology, this piece can potentially derail the entire project, due to its complexity. AP Processors don't always transition well to the work of a Scan/Index Operator.
An alternative to minimize the change needed for this factor, it to choose a vendor that can also provide a Digital Mailroom facility, so your staff does not need to take on that responsibility.
- Trusting the Technology — Based on what I know about AP Clerks and Managers, trusting the technology is a key hurdle to overcome. These folks take their job very seriously, and they are not going to embrace a solution if they don't trust it. Most AP Solutions are going to include 3-way matching and OCR technology, and the AP team may be challenged in trusting the automation that is happening behind the scenes. Therefore, education and culture are critical, more on these topics later.
This is not usually the case, but if the IT department selected the solution without input from the AP Department, there might be resentment and thus a reluctance to adopting the new solution.
We know that change is inevitable, but how can Change Management help? Here are three critical factors that are centered around the people and how to help them transition and adopt the AP Solution.
- Sponsorship — If you are familiar with Project Management you know that sponsorship is an important part of the PM process, but it is often overlooked. When it comes to making changes within an organization, sponsorship and commitment from the top is essential. There are two aspects to sponsorship that are important.
- Sponsorship From Management — If management is embracing the change and their actions are reinforcing the change, then the users are more likely to adopt the changes. It is important that this is reflected from the top of the organization down. If only your immediate management is committed to the change, this is not sending the right message.
- Sponsor — Do you have a sponsor/champion? The sponsor is the person that is accountable for enabling the success of the project. The sponsor promotes the project and is the spokesperson to higher levels of management. The sponsor is the change agent for the project. They must cast a clear vision to the users and lead them on the path to adopting the Solution.
- Education — Training is typically a part of every project, but it is often viewed as a task in the project plan with a specific start and end date. The key is that education is much broader than training, and education should be an ongoing task. Your users are probably not going to be on-boarded in one training session. Their education needs to go beyond the initial training class. The real learning starts to take place once they are back on the job and using the solution in real life situations.
The AP Team needs to take ownership of the solution. They need to understand how it works, how they can handle exceptions and how can they get the information they require from the solution. All this will require time and continuing education. Make sure your education plan is not short sighted.
- Culture — Every organization has a different culture, and to some extent, the culture will define how the change will be received, accepted and hopefully eventually embraced. When deploying an AP Solution, the role of the AP Team is critical, not only are they the ones that are the primary users of the solution, they take the processing of invoices very seriously. It is critical that the Sponsor of the project understands the depth of knowledge held by the AP Team, and that a reluctance to change may be because they do not trust or understand the solution.
When you are embarking on your journey to deploy an AP Solution, and you are thinking about Project Management, don't forget about Change Management. Remember that Sponsorship, Education, and Culture are three factors that can positively affect your ability to institute change along with your AP Solution.