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So, you’re about to embark on a big IT project. What do you need to know? What does the new system need to do? Who’s going to use it? Who’s going to supply and support it? How much is it going to cost? How long will it take to get it up and working?
Some pretty big questions … and they all need answering at some stage, but are there some other big questions that haven’t been considered as fully as perhaps they should be? Why are we looking to implement a new IT system at all? What part will it play in delivering our overall business strategy? What business processes are we looking to change that the new IT solution will address? How will the introduction of the new solution have a postiive impact on our staff, our customers, our culture and our overall business? Do we have the right team and people in place to get it right? Are we actually looking at all of this in the right order? Should we be addressing all of these additional questions before we even embark upon looking for a new IT solution? Given that a respected trade journal CIO reports that at least 50% of IT projects failed last year, the answer to that final crucial question is almost certainly an empathic “Yes”.
For many years, technology has been the tail that is wagging the business dog. Businesses introduce new technology in order to address perceived business needs and then spent the next few years adjusting to the unforeseen impacts of such an introduction before deciding that the now “old” technology solution really isn’t delivering what it should be delivering, and so they go back through the cycle all over again. For some businesses and technologies it may be a three year change cycle, for others it may be longer at five to seven years, but, in most cases, the new technology actually never delivers the expected benefits from day one and is, therefore, doomed from the outset (and, indeed, from before that).
Why is this? Why do over half over of IT projects fail to deliver (in 2018 that’s an estimated $4.5bn wasted) or, indeed, just fail? Every business knows that it needs to change and adapt to keep up with the times .. and the thing that changing the fastest is the technology, right? So change the technology and we keep up, right? There is a logic there but it’s flawed logic if you don’t take into account the needs of the business, its staff and customers in the context of a technology switch. Technology should be in place to deliver to the business (and it should be delivering considerable benefits given its costs – both internal and external), and not the other way round. Put simply the business should be leading any such “transformation” project (for that is what an IT project should be about, if it doesn’t transform anything then why bother?) and not the IT department. In too many cases, this simply isn’t the case and this is reflected in the all too obvious IT project failure rates and resulting horror stories.