IT solutions are complex, cross functional, intricate and aspirational. It is no wonder that getting the right scope, requirements and solution is a persistent challenge. Frankly, IT solutions rarely meet these challenges, particularly in new areas and even more specifically on the first try. Project over-runs, weak benefits realization, poor quality, late deliveries, mulligans (do overs), etc. are all part of the IT experience.
Cynics will point to these ‘project failures’ as reasons why IT is inept, unable to deliver, not business relevant, etc. IT professionals themselves beat each other up in the same way quoting data from companies like the Standish Group, supporting their claim for more Agile development or trying to build a case for new tools, skills and people.
One of the reasons behind this situation is that IT often blindly takes on responsibility for delivering business requirements and goals that no amount of technology can achieve. When I have raised this point with CIOs and IT leaders they agree that realizing business value in certain areas requires business, leadership and operational changes that compliment technologies. Without those changes, there is no value regardless of how well IT does its job.
This post is about highlighting the warning signs, the types of requirements that are frequently found in IT projects, but are fundamentally delivered through business change.
View these words, and please add your own via comments, as little reminders for when IT may be signing up for requirements that cannot be delivered via technology alone:
- Coordination revolving around knowing the status of parts and orchestrating how those parts come together to create a result seems like a natural for IT. The major ‘management’ systems ERP, SCM, CRM, PDM etc. are all fundamentally about automating and coordinating transactions not necessarily the work, behaviors or outcomes required to deliver coordination across groups. If you have ever had someone say, that is another department, let me log into another system, then you know what I am referring to.
- Decision Making has been part of the promise of information technology since the 1960’s and decision support systems. The algebra of decision-making and IT is simple: better decisions come from having more and better information. Improve the information you have and the belief is that you will make better decisions – regardless of the skills, techniques and abilities of those making the decisions. That represents a warning signs as the volume of information does not raise the ability of the decision maker.
- Collaboration is a frequent requirement and rational for investing in IT. Technology does enable coordination by connecting people through integrated workflows, information, deliverables, etc. That level of connection often results in your ability to co-labor together, but not collaborate in the way most people desire when they think about adopting new technology. People collaborate when they see collaboration as the best way to do their work and the management systems support collaboration.
- Speed/Cycle Time – the introduction of new technology to make people and systems go faster is the epitome of technology playing a business enabling role as people have to make the conscious decision to work faster, abandon past practices, etc.
- Innovation is perhaps the most common business goal that is over attributed to technology. Isn’t technology a major source of innovation? It is. But innovation is the adoption of new ways of working to reach new performance levels, not the presence of new IT systems or technologies. You innovate in terms of how you use technology not because you have it.
Coordination, decision-making, collaboration, speed, control and innovation each are aspects of most IT based business cases. IT systems can deliver the technical requirements, the tools that support these goals but without a change in behavior, adoption of new work patterns, application of information in new ways and managing to new objectives those investments are worth less as …
IT recapitalizes the cost base
of past functionality,
with limited gain as
new IT solutions
retain old business practices.
Now you may see this as a call for better change management and leadership.
Conventional wisdom holds that these ‘after the fact’ remedies will solve the problem. If only you just do them right. That advice is weak and not helpful, of course it would work if we did it right. Right in the sense that the business makes coordinating changes in its operational, organizational and management practices to realize the required behaviors for coordination, decision-making, collaboration, etc.
I believe that recognizing these warning sides can help IT avoid situations where it takes on responsibility for outcomes that no amount of technology can deliver. The gap between desired intent, which requires business change and realized IT functionality, is a major reason for why IT enables the business.
So, what can IT deliver, what are the requirements that can be delivered via technology capability alone?