Opinion Piece: Follow through – avoiding typical pitfalls to ensure a successful IT implementation

New IT implementations are typically fraught with challenges, and prior to awarding any project to a technology partner most organisations go through an incredibly stringent selection process.

November 14, 2011

By Greg Bogiages, Director at Cortell Performance Management

Greg Bogiages

Greg Bogiages

New IT implementations are typically fraught with challenges, and prior to awarding any project to a technology partner most organisations go through an incredibly stringent selection process. This initial selection phase tends to be an extensive, time consuming and expensive process, and can take months at a time, if not longer, to complete, particularly when going out to tender.

Despite this careful planning, however, a distressing number of IT implementations continue to fall short of expected benefits and returns after projects have been awarded. The blame for this is often squarely placed on the shoulders of the technology and implementation partner, and unfairly so in many instances. The truth is that ‘failed’ implementations can be the result of a combination of factors and pitfalls, all of which can be avoided to ensure that the implementation of a variety of IT projects is a success.

One of the most common mistakes businesses make is failure to follow through. Once the meticulous selection process is completed, the selection team ‘retreat’ from the project completely and simply leaves it in the hands of the technology partner. Considering that the selection process can take up to a year to complete and often involves great expense and the involvement of high level executives as well as a team of evaluators, this lack of follow through to the implementation stage does not make sense given the initial investment into selecting a vendor.

Another issue that can lead to less than satisfactory IT implementations is the fact that the entire selection process becomes a mechanical box-ticking exercise that is completed for the sole purpose of the risk of the decision maker. While following due process and due diligence is necessary to prevent unnecessary risk there is a fine line between covering bases and ticking boxes on a checklist and ensuring that the solution chosen is the best fit for the company. Selecting a solution based purely on its ability to meet a checklist and not based on fit with the needs of the business can create a ‘disconnect’ between expectations and the solution that is ultimately delivered.

When it comes to new implementations, often the need for change management is also overlooked. Important role players who will be required to use the new solution are not identified, and the need for communication with these and other involved parties is ignored. This often leads to resentment on the part of these employees, who will then not use or embrace the new IT implementation, leading to its classification as a ‘failure’ even though the vendor may have delivered everything that was requested and required.

The decision-makers on new IT implementations are also often not the people who will actually be using the solution or who will benefit from it. The IT department is tasked by business with sourcing a technology solution, which is then done and handed back over to business, after which it is often left to the vendor to resell and explain the selected solution to the business, because the business users have not actually been involved in the selection process.

The length of the selection process itself is a hindering factor as well.  Because the decision-making takes up much of the time given for the selection and implementation of a project, the implementation time is shortened, which means that vendors may have to cut corners to deliver the solution within the specified time frame. During the lengthy selection process there is also the possibility that requirements may change and new versions of software may be released, which changes the game once again.

In general, the pitfalls of IT implementations can all be traced back to the selection process. The fact is that the amount of planning that goes into selection is not followed through in the implementation stages, which is problematic since the actual implementation is where the risk ultimately lies. The selection process extends the sales cycle unnecessarily and often the resources used to conduct this selection are disproportionate to the value of the implementation. Ultimately, many IT implementations fail as a result, even though the company may well have made the right technology decision, and the technology itself and the implementation provider often bear the brunt of the blame.

In order to avoid these pitfalls, the selection and implementation process needs to become more balanced, with equal weighting and focus given to both the evaluation and implementation phases. The evaluation team should also be empowered to make decisions on behalf of the business, and more business-oriented people should be included on this team, to ensure that the traditional disconnect between IT and business is kept to a minimum.  Communication between IT and business should also be improved.

The risk and materiality of the spend should also be identified up front, and the selection process scaled up or down accordingly to ensure that resources are not wasted on months of selection and evaluation on relatively minor implementations. To sum it up, the meticulous planning applied to selection and evaluation needs to be followed through to implementation, and realistic deadlines need to be set, to ensure that IT implementations live up to the expected results and benefits and can deliver value to the organisation.