Is your culture getting in the way of your IT success?

Many enterprise IT investments lead to healthy debates about the best architectural or application approaches - but often forgotten is the culture of an organization itself.
Written by Jim King,, Contributor
Commentary - While any planned enterprise IT investment leads to healthy debates about the best architectural or application approaches, too often left out of the discussion is one of the most critical aspects of any technology investment – the culture of an organization itself.

Given the amount of effort and resources allocated to major IT initiatives, and the number of expensive projects that fall by the wayside, it stands to reason that if more time were dedicated to socializing a new technology approach the returns would be greater.

Neither mandatory training sessions nor dictums from the top of an organization will promote technology adoption if the appropriate time and energy is not invested in the cultural shift required to maximize the value of technology.

CRM is a prime example. With reported failure rates of between 50 and 70 percent, CRM projects often don’t live up to their expectations. In many instances, this is due more to human factors than the technology itself.

The larger cultural issues associated with introducing, sustaining and actually deriving value from any new technology investment include: lack of training, employee complacency, globally dispersed teams and poor channels for accountability, recognition and reward.

Based on PCSC’s experience with CRM and from an operational point of view, following are the four stages to ensuring a successful IT initiative from a cultural point of view.

Stage One: Prioritize people over protocol and processes
This stage is primarily focused on gaining a better understanding of the day-to-day functions of each individual in each department so that the technology will map accordingly.

During this job function inventory phase, ask employees which part of their jobs could most benefit from technology, which aspects they’d like to see automated, and, frankly, which parts of their jobs they don’t enjoy. This is not an exercise in identifying less than productive employees. Rather, it’s a way to clarify ways that technology can improve overall performance and productivity. Also, by engaging staff during the initial planning phases, you’ll begin to lay the foundation that will ease the transition to the new technology. It simply makes more sense to build technology around job functions as opposed to retraining staff to work within the parameters of an IT system.

Stage Two: Build buy-in and buzz
Articulate how the new technology will benefit specific job functions and tailor your messages accordingly. For example, when PCSC rolled out CRM, we had to take into consideration that it would impact employees overseas, distributed teams responsible for ERP efforts and our manufacturing processes. These functions are all interlocked and we realized that any disconnects in the chain would impact the success of the entire organization.

While the core messages remained the same with an emphasis on the customer, more specific dialog centered on the role of CRM as it spilled over into individuals’ job functions.

Buzz can be built in several ways. Designate a representative from each team to participate in the ongoing planning meetings and give them responsibility for reporting status back to their colleagues. You can give teams and individuals incentives through paid and/or non-paid perks that are aligned with project milestones and metrics. A countdown to launch can create a bit more excitement throughout the company. Leverage customer touch points, including regular surveys, to gain insight into their perceptions about what you’re doing better.

Stage Three: Adoption
Despite the best efforts in stages one and two, you should expect some hiccups and a few dissenters as the technology is rolled out. To mitigate this, institute a 90-day trial period where the old system is still available yet the focus is on adapting to the new.

During this period, allow for anonymous feedback, support rigorous usage and assign your team leads to put the system through its paces. Working to identify potential issues before the full implementation was the ideal way to accelerate adoption.

Stage Four: Evolution
Any IT initiative will shift over time to accommodate the business needs of the company. Don’t become too attached with all of the possibilities that a new system can bring. Start with the basics to get people up and running and build out enhancements based on a solid foundation. Too many projects fail because of a lack of focus.

As the system evolves, it’s crucial to keep a subset of the original planning and implementation team on board to track metrics throughout the deployment. Depending on the business requirements and scope of the CRM project, outside expertise can mitigate a lot of the potential issues before the system goes live and can also help support its continued progress. PCSC worked with Infinity Info Systems throughout the entire process to help define and translate business requirements into the CRM system, provide training and development, and act as a third party sounding board for employees.

Taking a phased approach to a CRM deployment can ensure that the technology maps to your culture and your business processes. And by engaging employees early, you’ll promote faster adoption to yield higher returns on your technology investment.

Jim King is vice president of operations at Panasonic Computer Solutions Company, manufacturer of Panasonic Toughbook mobile computing solutions.

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