Chill out, biz barons... your new IT system might not look like the old one
Being over-prescriptive will cost you
Organisations that wish to update their IT systems and transform their business need to be careful not to be overly prescriptive with suppliers and overlook other important considerations, an expert in resolving IT disputes has said.
Ian Birdsey of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that organisations often "fall into the trap" of trying to replicate existing processes and work methods, which may be outdated and inefficient, when planning and introducing a new IT system. He said organisations that are overly prescriptive with their demands of suppliers may risk not attaining the desired outcomes that they seek from updating IT systems.
"On a lot of levels it does not make sense to replicate old methods and processes with a new system," Birdsey said. "IT customers should challenge existing processes to determine whether they are best for them, otherwise the benefit of changing IT systems can often be diluted or lost altogether. Smart organisations use transformational IT projects to introduce more efficient and effective business process change."
Birdsey was commenting after officials in West Virginia in the US revealed that they had set aside $12.4m in contingency funds for delivering changes to a state government IT contract, bringing the total cost of the project to an expected $110m - $50m above what was originally anticipated in 2008, according to a report by the Charleston Daily Mail.
The state set 12,310 specific requirements for deliverers of the contract but realised, after awarding the contract to a single supplier, that some of the work it specified did not need done, the report said.
Birdsey said the West Virginia IT contract case illustrated the need for IT customers to balance being prescriptive with focusing on what they want to achieve through new systems.
"This seems to be a classic example where the requirements set for a supplier were overly prescriptive, probably to the detriment of focusing on the desired outcomes, improving the business processes and the changes needed to achieve that, and making sure there is sufficient engagement of everyone in the business to achieve that change," Birdsey said. "There has to be a recognition that it is very difficult to capture and prescribe all requirements at the beginning of such a project.
"Delivering on a transformational IT project requires a partnership approach between both customers and suppliers. It requires flexibility, a clear division of responsibility and a high degree of trust and confidence in each other's abilities. Where suppliers and customers have very different understandings of what customers expect, it is often indicative of a failed relationship where the two parties were not sufficiently aligned on what the desired outcomes were and on the process of change needed," the expert said.
Birdsey said it was important for management to understand their organisations' requirements and how new IT systems can help deliver them. He said that customers should embrace change where it delivers more efficient practices and better ways of working.
"IT suppliers and consultants are often asked to make recommendations, based on their own strategic and technical expertise, on the solutions the organisations could adopt to improve," he said.
Birdsey said it was important that all staff, from board through to the IT project team and support staff, are supportive of a transformational IT project. Only then can organisations hope to implement a plan successfully and attain the efficiencies and change to business processes that they seek, he added.
"Businesses should ensure that staff are properly trained in how to use new systems and that the benefits of doing so are clearly explained to them," Birdsey said. "This will help with staff 'buy in'.
"There is sometimes a disconnect between management and different levels of workers over the benefits of change, so businesses could also consider charging designating individuals within the business to champion new systems," he said.
Copyright © 2012, Out-Law.com
Out-Law.com is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
Lack of empathy from Vendors / Solution Architects
Having worked on major transformation projects for telcos one issue I see is that the Enterprise Architects and Managers of the IT delivery teams can not empathize with the business users who have to use completed solution.
Their view tends to be that the current system is old and the business should just change their processes, because as high level technical people they know the business much better then the business does. The issue here is that the proposed new processes aren't suitable for the business to operate and when these issues are pointed out they are passed off as been just low level detail or the users will change. The EA's and technical team management doesn't ask itself ' if I was a user would this make sense.
I'm also amazed of how credence is given to the functionality the old system did. All the years of customization is simply brushed off as unnecessary work and they believe 'this time we are going to do it right' (despite not doing it right the last 6 times with the same methodology.) Its almost like they believe the functionality in the past was just added for the fun of it, not too solve a business problem.
So I say listen to the users, listen to there small issues and vendors and EA's should stop believing they know it all.
Specify destination, not route
I'm reminded of the old quote apparently from Henry Ford, that if he'd asked his customers what they wanted they'd have said they wanted a faster horse. Probably an urban legend, but exactly the mentality that seems to prevail with tendering.
If you get a taxi, you don't usually say "Go along Hill Road, take the third left, carry on until you pass the supermarket then turn right" - you say you want to go to East Road. The taxi driver's supposed to know the route and anything relevant. The government, though, would phone up the taxi office and say it wanted a navy blue four-wheeled vehicle running on petrol with five seats and a CD player...
To quote a genuine example from a tender a few years ago: "This web application must be written in Visual Basic or .Net". It went on for pages like that, mandating NTLM authentication, two contradictory requirements for the top section of the pages (two documents specified totally different naming and logo requirements, something to do with an ongoing reorg that left it unclear quite which branding actually applied). They did fail to specify a requirement about URL structures which later caused problems, though.
(Oh, to cap it all, after setting up the architecture astronaut job on their hefty cluster of servers, it turned out to run faster on Amazon's smallest EC2 instance - even when that was over a WAN to Ireland, against using their on-site cluster over the LAN. Plus replacing a big chunk with PHP, because there was never actually a need for .Net involvement in the first place...)
Re: Too many business believe that IT is the silver bullet ....
probably because they do not completely understand IT, and try to accomplish the impossible on the cheap.
You get some ID10T who picks up some cheapo shelf-ware, and expects it to do shit it was never designed for, and because it is proprietary code, it can't be modified. I keep telling manglement assholes that before they can even try to replace software, or, $DEITY-forbid, replace manual methods; they need to completely understand what they want to accomplish. And that means doing your homework, something many lazy manglers refuse to do. The end result of taking shortcuts is commonly known as a clusterfuck.
Royal clusterfucks usually involve Oracle or SAP, and a large consulting firm.
IT is not the solution.
Unless we are are talking about digital business I cant for the life of me see how IT will ever bring solutions. Business itself has to bring the solution to the table, IT should only be one of the technical parts of the solution.
Too many business believe that IT is the silver bullet when in fact it is nothing more than one part of a very large puzzle.
Re: What the fuck does "overly prescriptive" mean?
Overly prescriptive = telling your contractors *how* you want something done, rather than telling them what you want to do with it, and why. The *how* part should always be the contractor's job, once they know "what". "why" is useful because it allows better solutions to be proposed...