Getting maximum results from innovative IT investments is an art. Business users may need incentives to take advantage of new capabilities that wait to be exploited.
Fortunately, there are proven management practices that, if you embrace them, can help you get the most value from your implementation of new systems—especially projects that require major change. Here are three of these techniques:
Typically, once a project is finished, IT organizations turn to the next one. CIOs assume the new application owners will identify future improvements. But CIOs with a long-term vision are remaining involved by adding a new phase to the project lifecycle.
When a project is deployed, these CIOs assign business analysts and program managers to the project team for a predefined time. Their primary goal is to support changes to the organization and business processes and help with training on new tools, all of which are needed to exploit the innovation created through an investment. Such work can take up to three years for a large project, but some organizations claim they double or triple their project’s expected ROI by doing it.
You can run post-implementation support from your project-management office, where analysts can collaborate on innovative approaches for obtaining extra value.
You wouldn’t get a business case approved without estimating ROI. But business leaders frequently aren’t held responsible for achieving it. One way to enforce such responsibility is to budget for it early in the process.
When you use this practice, called budget accountability, business leaders who ask for IT projects are told, before developing their business case, that any benefits, including cost savings or increased revenues, will be incorporated into their future budgets. When a business case is accepted and the project is approved, the finance department adds a new line item to that business unit’s budget.
Doing this helps in two ways. First, it keeps business and IT sponsors from inflating their estimates of the potential value of an investment. Second, because business sponsors are on the hook financially, they’ll be much more engaged after a project is implemented, when they have to push the changes necessary to take full advantage of a new IT capability. They’ll be sure to make the organizational and process changes required to realize the estimated benefits—and exploit those investments even further.
Budget accountability may not be appropriate when piloting new technologies, such as social networking and mobility, for which not all the benefits are known. But it should be standard for any process innovation or revenue-generating investments.
Reassess Your Priorities
Many IT organizations have models for comparing investment opportunities by return, risk and strategic fit, but this investment analysis may be conducted only on new IT requests. If you have your project teams report on early users’ experiences with a project, you can make changes to the IT portfolio dynamically and ensure that active projects remain focused on your company’s current priorities.
If they’re not, you can shift resources to more important new projects. Some CIOs even have a celebration when a project is killed to reinforce that it’s OK to stop doing something if a better opportunity comes along—and that the team’s performance isn’t to blame.
All these techniques should be considered by any CIOs looking to be more innovative with their value-producing practices. (See “IT Value Is Dead. Long Live Business Value.” for more on changing the conversation about IT’s worth.)
Rick Swanborg is president of ICEX and a professor at Boston University. Read more about innovative IT practices at www.icex.com.