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Overcoming User Resistance to Report Automation

While working on implementation teams and gathering report requirements I’ve noticed some keywords that immediately throw up red flags to me.  How do you overcome user resistance when replacing antiquated reporting or implementing new solutions with business objects?

While gathering report requirements for an implementation, I was met with some resistance.  My first eye-opener to this was that in general, the users just didn’t seem to have time to meet with me.  Bill was more than willing to email me his current spreadsheets, but when I wanted to know the inputs for those or how the lookups and formulas worked, Bill was just “too busy” to meet with me.  So what right?  Go above him.  I sat in on a meeting with his VP and thought when the VP hears that this currently manual report, which takes over 6 hours to produce, can be automated and available to the CEO and company instantly, he is going to be floored! My how wrong I was…instead I heard the VP say things like well these reports are subjective and they need some judgment before they can be released to everyone.

Why does this happen?  First instinct for many end user report creators is job safety.  If I automate Bill’s kazillion page spreadsheet, what will he do now for 6 hours a week?  In his eyes, I’m reducing his value.  Secondly, as humans we are just naturally resistant to change.  It’s an instinct, why fix something that isn’t broken?  And finally, there is loss of control on the end user’s side.  Bill no longer feels ownership of the report’s contents, instead its owned by the automation.  He doesn’t get a pat on the back anymore.

How can you work around these issues?  First of all, stand tall and strong.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions, be persistent, and borderline annoying.  Eventually, Bill will offer some insight into his mega-spreadsheet.  Depending on the situation, you may be able to facilitate his engagement by including his boss in the requirement gathering sessions to get buy-in on his participation.  However, in my situation above, sometimes that just isn’t enough, so what else can you do?  I recommend two key ideas.  Primarily, keep pushing, automate everything possible.  Make Bill and his boss see the pay-off in automating the report and freeing up time to work on more value-added activities.  Automate reports for Mary down the hall and once a buzz is created about how easy it is to get to the reports, how inboxes are no longer filled with meaningless reports pushed to users that aren’t interested in them, Bill will notice.  When Bill finally does take notice and decides he is ready to devote his time and attention to you, embrace him and make him your business objects champion.  Be sure he is trained and well versed in how to use the tool.  Once he is comfortable with the new report and reporting tools, he will once again feel ownership and he will accept the change.  He will feel like he adds value because he can now train and help those around him.

So, the moral of the story is, If you automate it, they will come around.  Just be prepared for when they do!

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  • First, I always try to make sure that the person that I am helping gets all of the credit for getting helped. This helps buy-in. Everyone notices when the CEO mentions that Bill automated some report and then they want to be the next Bill.

    The other thing I do, which is pretty dicey politically, is just produce SOMETHING, and deliver it to someone. It doesn’t match what Bill was giving them, and everybody wants to know why, so then it is in Bill’s best interest to help you get it right.

    • Agreed, I think I was trying to say the same.  Produce something, give credit to create that buzz/champion, and eventually word will get out.

      And, when the CEO sees that he is getting automated *awesome* reports, he is going to want all of them in that format.  And Bill, well, he’ll just have to come around to the dark side.

  • Came across an interesting application from Basis Technologies called Mass Data Reporting for SAP. It allows one to take reports, programs etc. and ‘parallelize’ them by sub dividing the task into smaller units that can then be run in parallel. The more parallel processing slots available on your SAP installation the faster the task can run! Heard about one customer who converted a report taking 3hrs 20 mins to less than 5 minutes using 40 processes. Awesome!