by Tiffany Kemp

Considering that computers have been an essential part of business and corporate life for several decades, it would be reasonable to expect that implementing new computer systems and communications networks should be a tried and tested, hassle-free process.

And yet, despite many years of industry experience, technology projects still routinely come in over budget, over time, and delivering less functionality and fewer business benefits than were set out in the original cost-benefit analysis. Why is this? And, more importantly, what can we do to improve our success rate?

Changing landscape.
First, to assuage the outrage of the technophiles among you, we must acknowledge that one challenge of implementing new technology is exactly that — its novelty. Because no two projects are exactly the same, it can be difficult to plan and budget accurately. So the changing nature of the technological landscape — and of the business landscape into which it must be integrated — increases the risk of failure.

Lack of clarity.
A second challenge is that of limited visibility of details at the planning and budgeting stage. We may know the high level requirements, but will often make assumptions about the complexity of each part of the project. And assumptions will, sometimes, turn out to be wrong.

Conflicting priorities.
Arguably, the biggest challenge in the successful implementation of any new solution is that of conflicting priorities. Let’s consider the different parties involved:

a) Users
b) Client IT department
c) Client’s Board of Directors
d) Vendor sales team
e) Vendor project team
f) Vendor’s Board of Directors

Let’s start with the users. They may want the benefits of the new system, and be trying to get as many features incorporated as possible. Alternatively, they may be reticent about the work involved in implementing new technology, or the possibility of related job losses. Each can cause problems — enthusiastic adopters can cause ‘scope creep’, while less enthusiastic users can slow the process by failing to supply needed information.

The client’s IT department may have specified a technically elegant and functional solution which does not meet the operational needs of the end -user, and will not deliver the intended benefits — and decisions may be swayed according to which technology will most enhance the CVs of the individuals involved.

The client’s Board may be investing to achieve improvements in the financial performance of the business; to ready their company for a merger or an acquisition; to facilitate greater integration with partners, or meet other strategic objectives.

Then to the vendor. Here, the salesman’s priority is closing the sale – quickly. They will usually be rewarded on the revenue or margin calculated on the project at the time of the sale, and may not know or care whether the forecast margin is actually likely to be delivered. And during the negotiations, they may agree to reduce the price, increase the scope, and shorten the timescales from those in the original proposal.

Pity the vendor’s project team. They have been given a budget and fixed timescales to deliver, to achieve the forecast margin. And, often, not enough of either to give any contingency for the inevitable problems and delays that will occur during the project.

And finally, the vendor’s Board will want a successful project that delivers both marketing and revenue benefits (with corresponding boosts to share price).

Pulling together.
Considering the complexity of delivering and rolling out a successful technology project, aligning the goals and objectives of the interested parties is a valuable step in achieving the desired outcome. However, as we can see from the highly diverse expectations and needs set out above, this is easer said than done.

Tiffany Kemp is Managing Director of Devant.

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