How to get what you really need from new IT

Steve Orriss, Director at The National B2B Centre, spends a lot of time rescuing the situation for companies who haven’t quite got what they wanted from their latest IT investment.

Here’s Steve’s advice on getting the purchase right first time.

Introduction

It’s a common occurrence when I meet a client to find they are not happy with the way their IT projects have gone (or are going). Apart from being over budget with expensive unforeseen extras common complaints include:

  • not having got the functionality the business needs,
  • the system is working but the users won’t use it

Both of these issues are most easily addressed right at the beginning of your project by understanding in detail exactly what your business needs are – and then asking suppliers if they can meet them.

The most common reason for not getting what you want is not thinking about it and defining exactly what you need at the start. A typical scenario is for a business to decide it needs a new IT system and then to call in a supplier immediately to recommend a solution. Funnily enough most recommend a solution they sell, but it might not fit your needs if you haven’t stated them clearly.

So what can the smaller businesses do about it? The answer is to do a bit of work up front before speaking to a supplier. Start by writing down the problem you are trying to solve with new IT and what your business will look like when it is fixed – some goals and the benefits of achieving them will help you focus.

There are 3 key elements to getting the successful IT project you want and these are:

  • People,
  • Processes and
  • Technology.

Technology is deliberately last – you can’t decide which solution is right for your business until you are clear what you want it to do – not all software solutions of a given type do the same thing. To achieve success you need to address all three.

People

Your staff will be the key users of any new software implemented in a business; if they don’t understand why it has been installed and they don’t feel they have been included in the project then the chances of user acceptance are low.

A fast growing client that I worked with had chosen a new finance package taking just the advice of their IT provider working with the directors. The accounts team reacted badly to the new, more complex solution. Only when it was explained that the system was essential to the growth of the business by making internal processes more automated and reducing the drudgery of data entry for the team, did they come round to being supportive.

Your staff are also in the best position to understand where the current processes in your business need to be improved as they use them every day. Just because management designed the process in a particular way certainly doesn’t mean that’s the way it is being used now.

If you involve your team from the very start of your IT project they will understand why it needs to be done. By asking them what works, what doesn’t, what could be done better and what would make their jobs easier you have taken the first step to achieving user buy-in. After that keep them involved and informed at all stages – include them in the project team so you get their input into how the new system will work at all stages. Involve them in the solution selection process – people who feel they have had an input into the answer are more likely to take ownership of the changes.

Processes

Processes are the way you do things in your business. Many Business processes have evolved over time rather than been designed and implemented in a controlled way.

You should start by documenting how your current processes work often called process mapping. There are many ways to do this: use text for very simple processes, i.e. just write it down. More complex processes will need a chart or map – flow charts and swim lane diagrams are the most common and these can be done in standard MS Office tools such as MS PowerPoint or more specialised tools like MS Visio. An example of a Swimlane Diagram for registering students is shown below.

swim lane

Once you have the current processes documented, review them with your team and see where they need improvement and design better (quicker, cheaper, greener) ways of doing it; there are often quick wins for businesses from this step alone.

Lastly, look at how the use of technology can provide the improvements you need to meet your business strategy. It might be to automate a step which is boring and repetitive and take your staff a lot of time. It could be to link an existing system to a new one to eliminate data entry and the time and errors that often entails.

Technology

Now you know what you need you can talk to suppliers; describe your problems and goals, tell them what you do now, what needs to change and ask for their solution. The best way to do this is a Request for Quotation document or RFQ. If you’re not sure how to go about this, our consultants can help you define your requirements. Talk to several suppliers and select the one that best delivers the goals. Most suppliers should be able to add value to your ideas by telling you how their solution can help your business in ways you may not have thought of or didn’t know was possible with technology.

Remember, 70 to 80% of IT projects fail. The best way to ensure success is to take time to consider what your people need and how your business processes should work before you leap into buying technology.

Conclusion

I said at the beginning that I wouldn’t cover the issues of projects being over budget with expensive unforeseen extras but if you can bring your People along with you and understand and clearly define the Processes you want to automate then you are a long way down the road to understanding the real cost when you speak to a supplier and avoiding the extra cost of things you hadn’t thought of.

Steve Orriss
Director, The National B2B Centre Ltd.
Steve.orriss@nb2bc.co.uk

Filed under: IT