Even the most casual observer of IT failures soon learns that problems arise from unexpected sources.
Still, most technology deployments involve three dominant parties: the enterprise customer, technology vendor, and system integrator. Therefore, when analyzing IT implementation projects, it is helpful to examine relationships among this triad, which I call the Devil's Triangle.
Related: Posts on the IT Devil's Triangle
Aside from accurately portraying a set of relationships, analysis based on the Devil's Triangle tends to force even-handed, rather than one-sided, examination of relevant issues. By systematically looking at projects through the Devil's Triangle lens, one can avoid the common trap of misinterpreting and sensationalizing failure.
A recent article in InfoWorld (click here for easy-to-read print version) examines ERP projects from a Devil's Triangle perspective. The author, Andrew Binstock, takes an unusually thoughtful look at why ERP projects fail and offers practical tips to sidestep problems and achieve success.
Here are five points of advice from the InfoWorld article:
Define the project completely. Understand what the business must do before, during, and after the projects. Some activities that precede a project include completing migrations to new systems, documenting business processes, and data cleaning.
Choose the vendor with care. [C]ompanies lacking extensive experience with ERP projects hire consultants unaffiliated with either the vendor or the potential integrator to advise the client with the planning and implementation. One key benefit of these advisers is they facilitate the dialog among client, integrators, and vendors and make sure the proposed solution fits the company's needs. Good advisers will know what is missing from a contract and be able to verify you are getting what you think you're getting. Krigsman stresses the need to get all promises about the software and implementation in writing.
Choose the integrator with greater care. Normally, the integrator brings in the software vendor, so the previous advice on selecting the vendor is even more critical when selecting the integrator. Interview the senior staff and go over the résumés of the other participants. Be sure they have experience in your industry segment.
Assemble a strong team to oversee the project. The team should include the CEO, the CIO, the heads of the affected lines of business, the project management officer (who is frequently an external advisor), and any primary project sponsors.... Integrating business executives in the team is crucial to success, observes Ross Wainright, executive VP of professional services for SAP North America. "An ERP implementation is a business process, not an IT project," he says.
Actively manage the project. ERP projects are nearly always lengthy, so it's tempting to not give them constant attention. But success lies in the details. Team members should be getting constant updates on progress and problems. If an important problem arises, available members of the oversight team should convene and make a decision.
Understand the impact on the business. ERP projects generally have profound impacts on many internal company functions. That's why the effects of large projects have to be understood and planned for from the very beginning, says Pam Daniels, who heads up Stylus Group, an organizational development consultancy. "Change management is a fundamental practice that must accompany ERP projects from the very start and all the way to through to the end. It continues even after the consultants have left the premises," she says. If change management is neglected, employees may resist the new software or use it minimally. Either way, the benefits of the project are undercut even if it is a technical success.
Don't shortchange training. One of the most dramatic ways of diminishing returns is insufficient training of the users of the new software.
Advice for enterprise buyers. Achieving IT project success is indeed possible, even though our record of accomplishment isn't great.
To achieve the goal, I strongly recommend raising expectations around how your organization spends time and money on technology-related projects. Without casting blame, raise awareness that both business and IT must demonstrate higher levels of financial stewardship regarding technology deployment.
Although this cultural shift will take time, it is the best way to improve failure rates and reduce the extraordinary waste associated with IT projects.