BIZTECH: When planning a technology project and building a business case, when and how should different teams be pulled into the process, and what are the factors to consider?
NATHAN COUTINHO: A lot of times IT will implement a system that they think everyone wants, and a lot of times, no one was actually consulted. So make sure the constituents who use the technology are involved and brainstorming what is being implemented. Not everyone has to be involved, but you have to get a good sample size to understand how this will benefit their lives.
Today, the average user is much more savvy than they were 10 years ago because they are exposed to so much stuff. You go back 10 years, most employees would not have a clue what to recommend if IT asked what would make their lives easier. They probably would have answered “a bigger monitor or faster notebook.”
Now, they will ask for Salesforce, Dropbox or some other cloud service. The average user is more technical today than they were just two years ago, and that’s because of consumerization and BYOD [bring your own device]. Involve them, so they are part of the process. It empowers them, and frankly, it helps IT in the long run because they will become ambassadors for the new technology.
We are starting to see where business units like marketing and finance comes to IT and say, “We want this, and we want it now.” So it’s about proper communications and getting input with your lines of business.
BIZTECH: What role should each of the different groups — IT, senior management, line of business leaders, project managers, users — play in the business case, from conception through to purchase?
COUTINHO: It depends if they’re going for a productivity increase, cost reduction, an obsolescence problem or a compliance issue. But in general, it comes down to who will be affected. If people are going to be affected, go up to the senior management of that group and inform them of the situation — that this will happen and this is how we want to handle it — and help them brainstorm ideas on how it gets done.
When it comes to conception before purchase, there is the way we do it today and how it has to change.
Today, the IT department typically does a total cost of ownership (TCO) and return on investment (ROI) analysis. A lot of times, it was about reducing costs. In the future, the CEO will want to know how the investment will turn into actual revenue. That’s what’s called “business outcome-based projects.” What it means is that now all of a sudden, if you invest in something, it has to drive revenue.
The landscape is changing fast. You have to do bimodal IT, or two-step IT. It is this new way of running IT. Not many people are there yet, but people will have to adopt this quickly.
Mode 1 is the mundane tasks you have to do like regular updates to Windows. If you look at IT budgets, 70 percent is just operations. Keeping the lights on, making sure it’s well oiled. Mode 2 is more creative. It’s innovation. Let’s try 20 new things. If 10 fail and 10 succeed, that’s great.
Frankly, IT doesn’t do a lot of that today because they don’t have a lot of time. But when you think about social, mobile, the Internet of Things and big data, these are major changes in philosophy, culture and higher IT. If companies want to survive, they will have to do it in this digital business world. They’ll have to do Mode 1 and Mode 2. They’ll have to get to the creative stuff. Otherwise, they will never improve.
BIZTECH: What works well and what doesn’t when different teams within a company work together on a business case?
COUTINHO: Transparency is important. Have executive sponsors involved in the status updates and project management of it, so they are always in touch. Every month, you need to share an update — this is what we are seeing, these are the challenges — and make sure the executives are involved.
So in a major project, have stakeholders across the business units involved in the project even if they are just getting a status update for 30 minutes every month. That is enough to get them to endorse it and make sure teams are helping out.
What doesn’t work is if you have all Type A people in the room at the same time, and they all want to run the project. What also doesn’t work is when there is no clear project management or timeline and no clear path to completion.
BIZTECH: How do the lines of business continue to be involved after the business case and strategy are developed?
COUTINHO: The lines of business should be involved because once it goes to pilot and user testing, they are going to be using the system. If you are putting in a sales or marketing system, you have to tailor it to how the lines of business work and not just how the system works.
BIZTECH: What’s the best lesson learned, tip, critical consideration or best practice you would share from being involved in major IT projects when it comes to smart business case practices and working with teams within a company?
COUTINHO: Always have a backup plan — not only for the technology, but for people who run the project. Employees can leave midproject. It happens a lot. An employee decides to get another job halfway through a major implementation, and no one has any idea of the technical nature of the project. You have to have multiple skilled people running the project.
From a technology perspective, if you put something in and it doesn’t work, be prepared to take it back to where it was before. When we do a major systems upgrade and it doesn’t go right, we can backtrack and get it back to the way it was before within the hour.
Coutinho writes regularly on CDW’s blog, providing insights on IT trends and the latest technologies. He leads strategy and business development projects at CDW, evaluating emerging technologies.