Has informational technology (IT) become the leading source of improvement in business productivity in the US? Experts at Gartner Research say yes, but IT still has a hard time shaking the bad reputation of unjustified cost overruns. Companies think in terms of ROI, and that can be difficult to quantify in any tangible way when looking at the value of an IT project. It’s about time IT got an image makeover, from an unpredictable and costly expense to a solid business investment.
One way to control and stabilize IT expenses is by centralizing the research and development. In the past, IT departments have traditionally not fallen under direct management by senior executives, and requests submitted by many individual departments often result in legacy systems filled with incompatible and sometimes conflicting components. The answer to disorganized madness lies in a competent project manager or CIO, well-thought out project plans, and internal centralization of IT requests.
The CIO must be part of the company steerage effort. He needs to understand the direction chosen by the company and interpret that into the project parameters if possible to do so without generating massive cost overruns. He also has to have the power and confidence to say no. Scope increases result in cost increase, and as much as I’d like to think that an executive who requests additional programming because he saw something really cool while surfing for new fly-fishing lure (so he says) will not be shocked by the additional costs…I know better. The equation that seems so simple to me, extra programming + extra IT staff hours = extra money, does not compute for people who have no understanding of IT and its inherent complications.
So the bottom line is that the CIO or project manager must take the lead in communications and develop a comprehensive, hierarchical, and detailed project plan to serve as a blueprint for the development process. The plan must be vetted by IT management, then formalized and approved by corporate management, including representatives from every department.
Once the plan is in place and work begins, IT management should stay on top of the project with regular reviews and checkpoints, quality assurance testing and feedback from other departments. If there is shared infrastructure, business units should communicate to explore the possibility of shared resources to save time and money.
Presenting the IT team with challenges and asking for their opinions and ideas will help create a more inclusive team and identify similar problems faced by other members of the team, problems that may have already resolved. Encouraging collaboration is a logical way to deal with challenges – without wasting undue time.
Sometimes giving the company or the client what they need is not exactly the same as giving them what they ask for. Good communication is vital to the health of the project. It’s up to IT management to determine what is really needed and keep the solution within scope to bring the project him on time and on budget. In the past, IT departments have worked in a virtual vacuum, sealed off from the business side of the company without access to feedback or interactivity. There’s a natural degree of separation, since what IT does is so different from the business the rest of the company is engaged in, but in order to work efficiently, both sides must step up to close the information gap. IT professionals have the ability to make vast improvements in the future of the company, but they must take a seat at the corporate table and indulge heartily in the moveable feast.