IT prioritization important, but not cure-all

Having framework to prioritize IT projects vital to preventing subscale infrastructure that hinders growth but it will not prevent any problems from arising, analysts say.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Companies should look into adopting IT prioritization frameworks for their projects as it would help prevent any growing pains and foster a "spirit of trust" within organizations. That said, even the best framework will not guarantee no problems will arise, analysts noted.

Jayesh Easwaramony, vice president of ICT Practice at Frost & Sullivan Asia-Pacific, said that it is important for all companies, regardless of their size, to prioritize their IT projects. He noted that in today's information-centric world, even smaller companies are pressured by their customers or suppliers to invest in sophisticated IT systems to improve productivity and response times.

The analyst noted in his e-mail that not having an IT prioritization framework could lead to problems such as subscale infrastructure, which might then lead to system outages, as the company grows its business. Additionally, it could also result in lack of manpower and higher costs of IT in the long run, he added.

John Brand, vice president and principal analyst of the CIO group at Forrester Research, went one step further in explaining the importance of IT prioritization. He pointed out that such frameworks are vital when planning IT projects, but unforeseen changes are always likely to occur.

As such, he thinks it is more important for companies to reprioritize when changes occur. Elaborating, the analyst noted that changes could occur because of "politics" that are involved in the decision-making process and the personal or professional beliefs the senior executives might have beforehand.

"We've seen many organizations that had a formal process defined, the methodology signed off by the business and responsibilities flawlessly executed by [the IT department]. Yet, when decisions about prioritization have to be made, [the decision-makers] may not follow the proposed framework," said Brand in his e-mail.

Thus, the ability to reprioritize without additional investment in time, money, effort or resources would make all the difference, he explained.

Furthermore, he also urged companies to refrain from reprioritizing IT projects too often.

"The business needs to be responsive to changing conditions but it also has to be acutely aware that every change costs. Every time a project is reprioritized, it can have huge implications on the rest of the organization," Brand said.

How to prioritize IT projects
According to the Forrester analyst, IT prioritization frameworks can be "as simple or as complex as you like" so long as they provide some level of transparency, consistency and engender a spirit of trust".

He added that IT prioritization models are generally based on weighted decision criteria that take into account the anticipated cost savings or revenue benefit, net present value, technical condition, legislative requirements, risk, complexity and the competitive landscape.

One organization that had reaped the benefits of establishing a clear IT prioritization roadmap is the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS).

According to its CIO Tang Wai Yee, the public sector agency implemented the framework in 2008 and this helped its IT department identify high-value projects instead of treating each IT demand on a first-in, first-out basis. For its 2011 financial year, the demand for IT projects was more than five times over the available resource, so having a clearly defined selection process helped it narrow down the projects it would work on to the top 22 percent, she said in an earlier report.

Another company shared its use of IT prioritization. In an e-mail interview, Mohan Mirwani of Treknology Bikes shared that his company had stopped using consultants and is now using its in-house IT and management staff to prioritize IT projects.

The company prioritizes its projects based on the urgency and impact of the systems, he said. He explained that urgency means asking whether the company needs the project now or if there are compliance issues while impact means how much will productivity increase or if it will make the employees' work more efficient or accurate.

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