People to People

Watertown’s Mennenga offers advice on surviving a technology conversion


Fall 2013

Ugh! Software installations.  Anyone who has ever lived through a business overhaul of a software system likely shudders at the thought and dreads the prospect of living through it again. But this is the information age and technology developments occur on an ongoing basis. Software installations are as certain as death and taxes.
 
Sheila Mennenga, human resources and risk coordinator for Watertown Municipal Utilities in South Dakota, shared lessons learned from her utility's experience with an enterprise-wide technology conversion with APPA members at the 2013 Business & Financial Conference.
 
When Watertown needed a new financial software package, the utility assembled an interdepartmental team that included staff leaders in information technology, finance, accounts receivable, accounts payable, human resources, purchasing and inventory, she said.  The group’s first task was to identify potential vendors, then to list detailed questions that would need to be presented to each vendor, including:
  • What are hardware needs?
  • Is data conversion manual or electronic?
  • How long will data conversion take?
  • How many years of data will be converted?
  • How many licensed users will have access to the software?
  • Will the vendor have a designated customer service representative for the utility?  
  • How will the utility contact customer service?
  • Will implementation staff be on-site or working remotely?
  • How long has the product existed?
  • How many other customers use the product?
 
Data conversion requires precise cleanup of existing data, with attention to consistent use of capitalization, abbreviations and acronyms, she said.
 
Implementation should occur according to a carefully established timeline.  At the onset of data conversion, the utility needs to review several examples to have a clear picture of what data looks like and how it will be used, Mennenga said.
 
Training for the new software is a very important component of the project, she said. Don’t try to cut costs in this area.  On-site training works best and utility staff should prepare detailed written procedures for using the new software.
 
Mennenga shared several lessons learned from Watertown’s experience, including:
  • The product demonstrated by the vendor may not be the product you receive.
  • Ask the vendor for examples of specific functionality.
  • Visit other sites that are using the same product and version of the software you are considering.
  • Data conversion is a time-consuming process, be sure to budget enough time.

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