Small bites help digest big IT projects

Chart large IT implementation into smaller parts to ensure successful rollout, and take advantage of economic downturn to review goals, experts advise.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

The disconnect between the business and IT processes is chiefly responsible for large IT project roll outs encountering sticking points. Breaking up projects into smaller, digestible pieces is key to busting these barriers, say four industry experts.

Samuel Liu, director of information services at Republic Polytechnic, said managing the changes in business processes which occur during changes in IT systems is the main issue.

With most big IT projects incorporating numerous business processes, "the major challenge is business process re-engineering. It is not viable to duplicate existing processes into the new IT systems.

"Not only do the processes need to be re-engineered, the mind of business process owners must be 're-engineered' too," said Liu in an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia.

Besides obtaining buy-in from business leaders, planning and breaking down the changes involved is crucial in order to determine which departments or personnel are handling which aspects of the roll-out, he said.

Vladas Leonas, CIO of the New South Wales (NSW) government housing department, said in an e-mail, an organization should appoint a project manager who can engage stakeholders, build a team and communicate to all levels of the organization.

This person is to also provide a "well-documented master project plan" charting out items such as the scope, deliverables, resources, roles and responsibilities, and deadlines, said Leonas.

Making provisions for users adds an extra dimension of complexity to the planning process, said Golden Village CIO Roger Lim.

Lim told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview: "Very often, IT managers tend to go into [planning for] detailed technical milestones, deadlines and migration processes. While all of these are essential, planning such tasks without knowing how users will be impacted will lead to disaster."

He said the fundamental role of an IT manager is providing "seamless and continuous support" for the organization's users, and once users encounter disrupted service, the project is deemed a failure in "both expectation management and planning".

Good time to embark in economic downturn
An IT project that typically requires installation on a larger scale is ERP (enterprise resource planning). Simon Dale, senior vice president of the business user unit of ERP giant, SAP Asia-Pacific and Japan, told ZDNet Asia in an interview, today's large IT projects need not always be huge roll outs.

Dale acknowledged that the current economic downturn will make it "harder to justify" new IT projects. He said SAP has repackaged software and service combinations under its Best Run Now banner, to make its products more "easily consumable" to customers.

But he added that this may be a good time for organizations to embark on exactly those large IT implementations.

"We have customers who think this is a good time to force through with a big change... Some companies want to use this time to take stock. When the economy turns, the people who've moved the quickest will be the first to survive.

"This is a good time to rip and replace," Dale noted.

Republic Polytechnic's Liu agreed, saying this is a good opportunity to consolidate and "clean up the back yard".

"Since the business has slowed down, people have more time to deal with non-core [issues]," he said, adding that organizations should take the slowdown to improve efficiencies and re-think company culture with regard to aligning business and IT.

Furthermore, it may not be wise to halt a project already set in motion, even during these times, said NSW Housing's Leonas. "If a large project has already been embarked on, it could be more costly to halt it. If the project is well-run, it should be on track for both deliverables and project costs," he said.

If necessary, review items that can be dropped without impacting the overall progress of the roll out, Leonas said.

SAP's Dale thinks business intelligence (BI) may be able to help break down the process of a large roll out. With growing business complexity and risk surrounding that, this is the time companies should adopt tools such as BI to help mitigate risk, he said.

"Before you embark on any massive projects, you should do your data analysis beforehand, and [get] a rigorous business plan," he said. BI as a tool may be able to help companies clean their data and show "exactly what needs to be changed".

Furthermore, BI may assist companies during data migration projects. "The problem [with company data] is there is a lot of context and semantics within," Dale said.

A BI tool will be able to help companies get "a better picture" of what the data means, easing the migration process, he said

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