Three Keys to IT System Success: People, Process, Technology
In a previous article, “Bridging the gap between IT suppliers and clients”, we identified the need for technology suppliers to do more than simply recite jargon and provide detailed specifications. Clients are looking for an approach that builds their confidence that suppliers both understand their business and take account of the key risk factors in delivering ROI (Return On Investment).
Martin King-Turner, MD of the National B2B Centre outlines an approach to technology development and investment that suppliers could take into account and clients might want to request: People, Process, Technology.
The National B2B Centre has a goal to help businesses “wring maximum value out of every pound you spend on IT”. Sometimes that statement is taken to mean that we are all about squeezing suppliers to provide the maximum input at the minimum cost but that view would be mistaken.
Instead our role is more often than not to support both suppliers and end-users in working together to achieve a result that delivers the benefits that the client is seeking and rewards the supplier appropriately for hitting the agreed objective.
A big part of that role is making sure both sides take into account more than just the technology. The reason for that is that despite the lurid headlines around the FireControl project or the NHS National Project for IT, for instance, implementation failure is rarely due to the hardware chosen or the software package used. Instead there is a range of other factors involved that lead to problems.
This article isn’t a detailed investigation into why IT projects go wrong but what we can do is throw light on the areas where suppliers and end-users should place the most attention. And in our view there are 3 factors that deserve most attention: People, Process and Technology.
People, Process and Technology
What I would like to do is explore these factors in more detail to highlight some of the specific elements that could have an impact on the kind of IT projects that SMEs are involved in. This provides some pointers as to how clients can ensure they get the system (and the ROI) they want and how suppliers could enhance their credibility.
Perhaps the proliferation of motivational posters and well-meaning statements about “how it’s all about our people” has numbed our ability to recognise the importance of people-related issues to project or indeed business success.
Our experience is that problems with communications, relationships and skillsets are the most obvious features of IT implementations that are heading for the tubes. Interestingly although we have raised the poor track record of suppliers in “speaking their clients language” in previous articles, I would suggest that this is in general more of a client-side issue. This also makes it an opportunity for the supplier community to provide leadership, giving leverage during the sales process and shaping the project for success.
So what can be done to enhance the People side of the project? Here are just a few ideas.
- Check that suppliers have the necessary skills and knowledge (including technology, business Application and sector) to deliver what they have said they were going to do – either internally or contracted in.
- Ensure the client has full management buy-in and a designated, senior project champion. The project champion should be managing staff representation and involvement.
- Conduct a HR assessment of the plan to understand if working conditions or terms of employment are being affected and if the right skills profile is available to operate the system.
- Develop a training plan that encompasses both how the actual system operates and any procedural or cultural changes that may have taken plans
- Create a communications plan that understands what staff, suppliers, investors and…clients need to know, when they need to know it, and how they need to be told.
Clearly there are some negotiations to be had about where the responsibility starts and ends with some of the ideas highlighted. The important point is that these ideas and more should be on the table.
A process is “a structured, measured set of activities designed to produce a specific output for a particular customer or market.¹”
You may remember terms like “Business Process Engineering” coming in and out of fashion over the years. Despite the faddish connotations, however, the ability to define what processes are responsible for delivering outputs in an organisation could be a key element of your IT system’s implementation success. What technology often brings is a structure, within which existing processes can be made more efficient, improved to gain more benefits or even changed altogether.
So what does this mean for the likely success of systems implementation?
For end-users having an upfront understanding of what your business processes are means that you will find it easier to appreciate what gains could be made from an IT system.
Understanding the processes also means that end-users have a better chance of describing to potential suppliers what the system needs to do. This clearly increases the chances of achieving the desired result and makes it easier for everybody to agree on important things like price and timing.
For suppliers the ability to demonstrate an ability to map processes, advise on process change and then plan systems around those processes has a number of clear advantages.
- A lingua franca supports the building of both rapport and credibility between the two parties
- Business conversations can be conducted in a format which is technology neutral but structured enough to enable a link into project management and software development methodologies.
- Upfront clarity of what the system will do and how it will impact the business, will speed up implementation, reduce disagreements and make it easier to define when the project has been successfully delivered.
As you might imagine this is the area where suppliers are in the best position to establish confidence with their prospects and clients. Our research shows that businesses will accept technical knowledge and capability as read, provided suppliers can build rapport and demonstrate credibility.
From a supplier perspective the quickest way to establish credibility is to provide evidence of successful implementations in the form of testimonials, case studies and non-technical information about what you do.
Of course it is still important to define core elements of the system such as;
- Hardware and software platforms
- System architecture.
- Information flows.
What’s important though is that when the system specification is presented to the end-user that it includes an analysis of the advantages of the solution and a definition of business benefits. .
Our advice from the technology perspective for end-users includes the following suggestions:
- Get multiple responses to tender documents.
- Follow up references.
- Listen out for suppliers who make the effort explain to the technology and show you what the advantages and benefits area.
For any companies thinking about making investments in technology our message is simple. Take the people, process, technology approach to maximise your chances of achieving both a successful implementation and the business benefits you were hoping for.
Equally for technology suppliers the approach is there to help you work more effectively with your clients to win business and maximise implementation success.
Whether you are a buyer or supplier the National B2B Centre is on hand to help. We have the experience, the skills and the resources to help make informed choices about technology, analyse and improve the underlying business processes, and help manage the people elements of your technology projects.
Let me know how the people, process and technology approach could help you. Call me on 02476 620158 or email firstname.lastname@example.org today.
¹ (Davenport. Process Innovation: Reengineering work through information technology. HBR Press,1993).