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How to take charge of your software implementation


Implementation and training oftentimes don’t go as planned ... but there are ways to make it simpler.

Whether you are upgrading your present vendor’s software or purchasing a new software system chances are your implementation and training will not go as smoothly as you would have liked. And why do these bad implementations occur time and time again?

Is it the fault of your software vendor? … Yes. Is it your fault? … Yes. Point is, there is not one party to blame as usually both sides fall short in the implementation game.

The good news is that after having provided oversight on numerous implementations of group practice software systems over the years, I can assure you that if you take control of the process, hold the vendor accountable for their work, and commit to addressing your responsibilities during implementation and training, you can be successful, avoid interruption in your practice and keep your staff happy during this process.

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Using your contract as an implementation hammer

Too many times dentists and office managers don’t realize that if they address implementation and training in their software contract they can at least set up some basic rules that hold their vendor accountable later. This also puts the vendor on notice that they need to meet their commitments. When I negotiate software contracts, I always make a point of discussing the vendor’s commitments and then making sure these are documented in the contract. Some major areas to address are:

1) When will the project start after the contract is signed?

2) Will there be a detailed project plan that lays out an implementation and training roadmap?

3) Are there penalties if the vendor doesn’t meet their project commitments?

4) Will there be a commitment to hold regular status and triage meetings?

5) Do you have a right to replace the vendor project manager if needed?

There are additional implementation and training project related items you can address in the contract, but these are a good start and worthy of conversation during your contract negotiations.

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How can you help?

Over the years I’ve received numerous calls from practices that had failed software implementation and training efforts and wanted to know what I could do to help. I wish that they had asked for assistance before the implementation, but no sense looking back. The first thing I typically do in this situation is to bring the vendor and practice together to discuss the project, what went wrong and what could have been done better. When I do this little postmortem exercise, practices are often surprised that it wasn’t just the vendor that caused issues, but there was a lack of engagement from the practice that also caused the implementation to go south. 

There is a tendency (especially from clinical staff, because of their patient workload) to pull away a bit from the process once the system is purchased. But, the implementation and training is where a lot of the heavy lifting begins and, especially in the case of a dental EHR system that is flexible and customizable, the vendor needs direction from the practice staff during the project. Absence of this direction and input will give you a system that might not meet your expectations. As a start, the most important thing that you can do is assign a person from your practice to be a project manager for the practice during the implementation and work closely with your vendor project manager. 


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How do you hold your vendor accountable?

As discussed earlier, salespeople are infamous for assurances of a smooth and relatively seamless implementation and training when asked during the sales process. But unless you hold your software vendor accountable for their role, you can only blame yourself when it doesn’t go as planned. Holding your vendor accountable and making them live up to their commitments can pay off big time when it comes to a successful implementation and training.

The most successful implementations I have been part of were ones where I took as much control and oversight of the project as the vendor using the following processes and steps:

1) Worked with the vendor during project planning for the implementation to make sure that are needs and timelines were being met.

2) Held regularly scheduled status meetings with the vendor to make sure that things were on track.

3) Audit vendor service hours and billing for accuracy. To reinforce this point, I once saved a large group over $200,000 by catching errors in the vendor’s Implementation and training charges.

4) Report vendor issues on a timely basis instead of letting them linger and grow unmanageable. Also, when there were issues I demanded a plan and timeframe for resolution.

5) Escalate issues to vendor higher-level management if necessary.

Finally, something that is not talked about much, but is extremely important: Let your vendor know that if they have any issues with you or your staff not doing what is expected during the implementation, they need to make you aware of this. As you can imagine, vendors are very hesitant to call out their clients, but it is critical that they feel comfortable making you aware of issues coming from the practice side. So, let them know honesty in this area is never a problem.

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Implementation and training as a partnership

The bottom line is that implementation and training is not a one-way street and the better the partnership is with your vendor during this stressful time the more successful the outcome will be. Issues can come from both the group and the vendor, but a timely recognition of these issues, along with the willingness to work together to resolve them will go a long way in ensuring that your implementation and training goes smoothly and meets your expectations.

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