The Super User for Your Software Project

To make your company's new system really hum, you need a full-time, non-IT administrator to answer questions, solve problems, and troubleshoot

Who does the Don call when he needs to make an offer that can't be refused? Luca Brasi, of course. Who does Tony turn to when he needs to get rid of a talkative girlfriend? Silvio Dante, for sure. These are people who can be relied on to take ownership of a responsibility no one else wants and who make sure it gets done. There are many of these unsung fictional heroes. Pam from The Office. R2D2.

The same holds true in the real world, especially when it comes to software projects. Back in 2000, the Gartner Group (IT) interviewed more than 1,300 IT professionals from large and small companies and found that—gasp—40% of their software projects didn't produce the intended results.

Overseeing a new software system is just such a thankless job. There are worse jobs, of course. Like being a traffic cop in Sadr City. But someone's got to do these things. And while I'm not sure what the qualifications are for a good traffic cop in Iraq, I do know who's not qualified to implement business software. And that's your IT guy.

One Person's Responsibility

IT guys know about malfunctioning hard drives. Fried routers. Failed nodes. They network things together, configure firewalls, and troubleshoot printers. Their lives are spent whining about stuff that doesn't work. At best, and this is stretching the point, they may be able to install a software application. But most don't have the time, or the interest, to really understand how it works.

That's why the success of your new business system needs to rest entirely on one person's shoulders. And that person is…Nancy. Yes, that's right—55-year-old Nancy. She may already be your sales administrator or your office manager. Now she's your database administrator, too. She is your Luca Brasi. Your Pam. She'll be the difference between a great return on investment and a chewing-out from the CEO.

Nancy's going to be your Super User. Your administrator. Your champion. She's going to be responsible for your system. And you better make sure she's on board and ready. Because if you don't, you'll fail. Miserably.

I should know. I've been involved in lots of failed software implementations. I've seen clients spend thousands of dollars, only to be left with a messy, unreliable database. Others have replaced their existing systems with something that promised to do more…but didn't. I've seen arguments. I've seen grown men cry. I've had computer mouses thrown at me. And in almost all cases it was because there wasn't a Nancy involved.

Owning the Software

What does Nancy, the Super User, do? She takes ownership of the software. Because no matter what business system you buy—customer relationship management, accounting, help desk, etc.—it's all just a database. And if the data aren't right, someone's got to be responsible. That's Nancy. Not that it's her fault if the data are wrong. It's just her responsibility to make it right. She determines the procedures and processes for entering and reviewing data. She's held accountable for this. It's part of her job description. It figures into her performance evaluation. She owns it.

There's even more to this thankless job. Nancy teaches new employees how to use the system. She checks up on users, wiping noses and changing diapers. She runs reports. She queries the database when special requests come up. She becomes expert in the advanced features of the software and knows how to set up automated tasks, work flows, and alerts. Users ask her to do all these things so they don't have to waste their own time figuring it out. Hmmm, maybe that job in Sadr City isn't looking so bad after all.

How does she accomplish this Herculean task? By kicking butt. Yelling. Screaming. As the single point of contact, she's responsible for it all. Questions come to her. She's trained to troubleshoot. And if she doesn't know the answer, she's taught where to get it. She's given support by the consultants. And she's given the authority by you.

Nancy is not an IT person.

She's just a smart cookie who likes to work with software and databases. Where do you find her? She may be right under your nose, working in your office already. You don't need a graduate degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology for this kind of work. Does Pam need a master's degree to manage Michael and Dwight at Dunder-Mifflin?

The Risk of No Nancy

What does a Super User cost? It's not cheap. During a software implementation, Nancy may need to spend a few days a week getting up to speed. Once the system is up and running, she could be spending another half to full day per week supporting your users and performing other Super-User tasks. Some firms even have more than one Nancy so there's backup. Whether you hire these people or just reallocate them internally, it's going to be an expense. If you haven't budgeted for this, then you've underbudgeted.

And trust from my experience, if Nancy is not part of your budget, then you will fail spectacularly. People will veer off in their own directions. Untrained users will complain. Data fields will be left blank. Reports won't run correctly. And the minute something goes wrong, your IT guys will run for cover, pointing 10 fingers in 20 directions. The software vendor will stop answering your phone calls. Everyone will blame the software—and ultimately you, for buying the software.

Is there no role for the IT guy? Of course there is. He makes sure the system is backed up (though Nancy double-checks this because you can't really be confident he's doing it correctly). He makes sure users can connect to the system, whether in the office or remotely. He makes sure all the recent software patches and builds are installed and configured so the system runs at its best.

No one told you about Nancy? Then you have been misled. Software companies don't really care. They like to promise customers that all their hopes and dreams will be fulfilled with the push of a button. Consultants and resellers don't care either. After all, the more work that Nancy does, the less work they get. And someone's got to pay their $495-per-hour rate, right?

The Don has his Luca. You have your Nancy. Your Super User. Both have a lot in common. They're responsible. They're trained. They each play an integral role in the organization. And, I assure you, neither would leave the cannoli behind.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.