Page 4: Using external expertise
A decision was taken to employ external teams of consultants to help with the implementation process. As the project involved changing everything in the information technology infrastructure within Independent Insurance, it was particularly important that project managers and technologists would know exactly how the process of change would affect the organisation.
The technical team was led by a manager from the IT supplier. It was important that the skills of the consultants were passed on to staff at Independent Insurance as the project developed, so that they could take over their roles and feel a degree of ownership within the project. The technical team was responsible for:
- The design and sizing of the local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs). These are the networks carrying the data and images used by APACHE to the various offices within Independent Insurance.
- The set-up, building and testing of PCs in operation.
- Ensuring that the APACHE system performed well before it was implemented. An important element was the set-up, testing and tuning of the system.
To help prepare for the implementation of APACHE, the Project Leader visited a major insurer in the USA - the only other organisation which had already implemented the system on such a large scale. Messages from the visit were clear. The training and development of skills in personal computing were important. Getting the scanning right was also vital and in particular, the quality of scanning and indexing. The US insurer admitted to a number of mistakes, such as implementing its image system at the busiest time of year and failing to check the effectiveness of the training programmes by asking staff to demonstrate what they had learnt. One unusual sight was to see Scanning Centre staff stop for a ‘stretch break’ - meeting up for exercises to prevent repetitive strain injuries. The insurer emphasised that the adjustment from paper to images meant a culture change for the organisation, but felt that the system had led to more satisfied staff and customers and a much more efficient way of working.
A detailed project plan was produced and then subdivided to make the project manageable. It was important to anticipate possible problems, as well as the needs and requirements of the users and the technology. It was initially anticipated, for example, that staff would not like changing from the green computer screens that they were used to. In the end, however, this was not a problem at all. One problem which was not anticipated immediately was the lack of air conditioning in the offices first chosen. This meant that the first phase had to be introduced in London offices which already had air-conditioning, otherwise the offices became too hot.
As the project developed, it was important to introduce the new technology gradually and in line with the training and communication programmes which would provide the critical skills for those who would use the system first. As the system was designed whilst normal day-to-day business was going on within the company, flows of work were examined and then translated into computer language and computer programmes. Hardware and software were chosen and ordered. External factors had to be checked, such as the availability of electricity supply and air conditioning, as well as other features of offices and buildings.
APACHE project and model office
An APACHE project office, including a training centre, was set up to prepare for the new system. A model office was used to show how the system would operate in the everyday business environment. This gave staff an opportunity to view APACHE working before their training. Training for APACHE was in two parts:
- Technical training - came first and included training on how to use a PC and mouse, as well as how to maximise use of the large screens needed for APACHE.
- Applications training - took place approximately two months after technical training and involved teaching staff how to use the system itself. It was important to give them time to become familiar with the new technology before expecting them to work on a day-to-day basis with it.