Consider the following statement: poorly performing IT applications cost UK business 2 billion per year. If you were a finance director mulling over this piece of research from the Butler Group, would you be keen to sign the next IT project off?
Admittedly, the research does not speak of the financial benefits that come from effective IT, but then bad news is always more eye catching than good news, a glance at any newspaper will confirm this. Most people outside of IT do not understand all of the issues involved in why projects fail, even if they are obvious and easily avoidable to us on the inside, further fuelling the impact of this particular piece of bad news.
So what can we do to change this damaging perception and restore faith in IT projects? The Butler Group says the blame should be heaped upon the complexities of managing the latest on-demand, web service architectured systems and recommends implementing technology to monitor the effectiveness of systems.
While Butler’s thoughts have merit, there are two fundamental flaws in this assessment. Firstly, technology projects were failing before the ASP (Application Service Provider) model for using software became popular. Secondly, what chance is there of the accountants letting us buy more technology, if our justification is that we need it to make good on the last cheque he wrote for the IT department.
What Butler has correctly identified is that we need visibility of systems in order for companies to see if they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Analytics and monitoring tools can play a part in making this possible, but only if you know what to analyse and monitor. In other words, technology projects rarely fail outright because we cannot analyse what is going on, they fail because we do not define exactly what the system should be doing in the first place.
The classic contemporary example of this was CRM (Customer Relationship Management). Billions were spent trying to build the vaunted single customer-focused system that pooled all of the information relating to that customer. Some of those who got as far as achieving this (and there were very few) realised once it was achieved that there were few benefits, and certainly not enough to justify the time and money spent on the project. The few that did glean benefits had spent the time working out what they wanted to achieve, how much income it would generate or save, and executed against this.
IT must become more disciplined, more focused and more realistic in what it can achieve. When it is given a budget, it must be able to virtually guarantee that there will be a return. And to do this, IT must perfect and automate as much of the day-to-day operations as possible and then assign the resources saved onto project teams who can work with the relevant departments to make sure that any implementation will serve a real purpose. Of course, this is easy to do on paper and hard to do in reality. But until we can prove that we are not part of the 2 billion sinkhole, do we really expect to be given the freedom to unleash the projects which will know will really transform the business and move the use of IT to the next level?