The University of Oxford’s Development and Alumni Relations System (DARS) was upgraded successfully on Friday 16 February. This delivered some important operational efficiencies and enhancements; it also enables the University to continue to receive donations via credit card and benefit from continued technical support from software vendor, Blackbaud.
In many respects, the upgrade involved all of the project phases you might expect. However, the DARS v4 project team experimented with some fun ways to engage the user-community and adopt a user-centric approach to project planning. This included the decision to hold a festival of testing – Test Fest! The outcome of these lively testing events (complete with ‘Test Fest’ t-shirts!) provided important insight about the level and type of training and support the wider user-community needed to make a successful transition to DARS v4. Some great suggestions were surfaced from the DARS Super Users about the best way to support the upgrade; this included the idea of offering every DARS user the opportunity to attend a 30-minute DARS v4 Preview session. The project team think that these sessions significantly alleviated any anxieties users might have had about the upgrade. This created a positive context for the upgrade and enabled us to predict and plan for what users would respond well to and put plans in place for areas that might require additional support.
Other outreach activities included working side-by-side with DARS Super Users; the team worked closely with this group to develop a Super User Pack, with resources and tools to support their teams. The DARS v4 upgrade coincided with Valentine’s Day; the team created a fun campaign email -- ‘There’s a lot to love about DARS v4’ -- to focus users’ attention on the benefits gained, rather than time lost on the system.
Following the upgrade on 16 February, so far there have been no major issues reported. By the end of the first week after go live, helpdesk incidents had fallen below January averages. Post go-live drop-in session attendance has been low, indicating that users have made a good transition with minimal need for support. The response from the user-community has been extremely positive and the team is delighted that the approach taken to prepare users for v4 delivered a positive experience and a smooth upgrade.
To deliver a successful upgrade feels good; but the project team wanted to do more than this. Developing a user-centric approach has established some strong foundations that will serve future projects and drive increased DARS community engagement.