3 approaches to a successful enterprise IT platform rollout strategy

enterprise IT rolloutExecuting a successful enterprise IT platform rollout is as much about earning widespread support as it is about proper pacing. It’s necessary to sell the rollout within the organization, both to win budget approval and to gain general acceptance so that adoption of the new platform goes smoothly.

Each group being asked to change their ways and learn this new platform must have the value of the rollout identified and demonstrated for them. The goal of the rollout process is to see the platform solution become successfully adopted, self-sustaining, efficient in assisting users, and, ultimately, seamlessly embedded into the organization’s way of doing business.

Deploying a new solution for use across an organization boils down to three approaches, each with their advantages and drawbacks: rolling out slowly (to one department at a time), rolling out all at once (across the entire organization), or a cleverly targeted mix of the two.

Vertical Rollouts (taking departments one at a time, slow and steady)

This strategy applies when selecting a single department or business function within the organization (ex: customer support, HR, etc.), for an initial targeted rollout and deploying the new platform in phases to each vertical, one at a time. The benefit here is a greater focus on the specific needs and usage models within the department that is receiving full attention during their phase of the rollout implementation, yielding advantages in the customization of training and tools to best fit those users.

For example, the tools and interfaces used daily by customer service personnel may be entirely irrelevant to HR staff or to engineers, who will appreciate that their own solutions are being streamlined and that their time is being respected, rather than needing to accept a crude one-size-fits-all treatment and have to work to discover what components apply to them. It’s then more obvious to each vertical audience what the value added is for them personally, better garnering support and fast platform adoption. Because this type of rollout is incremental, it’s ripe for iterative improvements and evolution based on user feedback.

Where vertical, phased rollouts are less effective is in gaining visibility within the organization, and in lacking the rallying cry of an all-in effort. This can make it difficult to win over those in departments that aren’t offered the same immediate advantages, and to achieve the critical mass of adoption necessary to launch a platform into a self-sustaining orbit (even for those tools that could benefit any user regardless of their department).

Horizontal Rollouts (deploying to everyone at the same time)

Delivering components of a new platform across all departments at once comes with the power of an official company decree: “get on board because this is what we’re doing now.” This kind of large-scale rollout makes everyone take notice, and often makes it easier not only to get budget approval (for one large scale project and platform rather than a slew of small ones), but also to fold the effort into an overall company roadmap and present it as part of a cohesive strategy. Similar organizational roles in the company can connect and benefit from each other with a horizontal rollout, pooling their knowledge and best practices for using certain relevant tools and templates.

This strategy of reaching widely with the rollout helps to ensure continuity within the organization. However, big rollouts come with big stakes: the organization only gets one try to get the messaging and the execution correct – there aren’t opportunities to learn from missteps on a smaller scale and work out the kinks. Users in each department won’t receive special attention to ensure that they receive and recognize value from the rollout. In the worst-case scenario, a user may log in to the new platform for the first time, not see anything that speaks to them and their needs in a compelling way, and not return, at least not until the organization wages a costly revitalization campaign to try and win them over properly.  Even in this revitalization effort, a company may find users jaded by the loss of their investment in the previous platform rollout.

The Hybrid Approach to Rollouts

For many, the best rollout strategy will borrow a little from both of the approaches above. An organization can control the horizontal and the vertical aspects of a rollout to produce a two-dimensional, targeted deployment, with all the strengths of the approaches detailed above and less of the weaknesses. With this approach, each phase of a rollout can engage more closely with specific vertical groups that the tools being deployed most affect, while simultaneously casting a wide horizontal net to increase visibility and convey the rollouts as company initiatives key to overall strategy and demanding of attention across departments. Smartly targeting hybrid rollouts to introduce tools valuable across verticals – while focusing on the most valuable use case within each vertical – is essential to success with them. In short, hybrid rollouts offer something for many, and a lot specifically for the target user being introduced to the new platform.

In executing a hybrid rollout of your enterprise IT platform, begin with a foundational phase that addresses horizontal use cases, while enticing users with the knowledge that more is coming. Solicit and utilize user feedback, and put this information to work in serving more advanced use cases as the platform iterates and improves. Next, start making the case for why the vertical group with the most horizontally applicable use cases should embrace the platform. With that initial group of supporters won over, you have a staging area to approach other verticals with specific hybrid rollouts, putting together the puzzle of how best to approach each while showcasing a wide scope and specific value added for each type of user. Importantly, don’t try to sell the platform as immediately being all things to all people. Instead, define and convey a solid vision for the platform, identify the purpose of the existing release, and let these hybrid rollouts take hold at a natural pace. This allows the separate phases to win their target constituents and act as segments to a cohesive overall strategy.

If properly planned and executed, your enterprise IT platform rollout will look not like a patchwork quilt with benefits for some and not others, but rather a rich tapestry of solutions inviting to everyone, and beneficial to the organization as a whole.


roguen kellerWritten by Roguen Keller, Director of Global Services at Liferay, an enterprise open source portal and collaboration software company.