Monday, May 30, 2011

Don't turn my problem into your solution

It was an interesting meeting of a few CIOs with the debate revolving around IT Governance. From all types of models being discussed, the common subject of woes shifted to Business Intelligence. All the CIOs present had large investments in BI with varied degrees of success, some more than the others. Everyone acknowledged the presence of multiple tools and technologies with no single vendor’s ability to address the wide spectrum of needs. It was evident that their respective enterprises had reached a level of maturity in adoption of IT that would be the envy of many larger and smaller companies.

Later in the evening, the discussion continued over drinks and with rising spirits, the voices also became louder, the emotions hotter and the language looser. It so transpired that all of them had a few common service providers and solution vendors; stories exchanged stayed in the room but the lessons can be shared.

Most companies have common groups created with IT and Business participants to explore evaluate and decide on solutions. These heterogeneous groups are typically lead by the CIO or another senior IT leader who orchestrates the process. The process is similar across companies, with one or more of the following steps involving RFI, RFP, Demo/POC, Business case and budget approval, negotiation and commencement of project. A few vendors in their excitement sometimes try to take shortcuts which almost always results in unpleasantness for everyone.

But the more interesting phenomena occurs when solutions don’t really meet the functionality requirements by a reasonable margin, but the sales person in their desire to meet monthly, quarterly or whatever sales target pushes ahead with a desperation of a man clutching straws to save himself from drowning. Everything seems possible with a tweak, small code change, customization, bolt-on systems or to be released in the next version or patch.

The resulting tragedy of errors, omissions, round pegs in square holes and heartburn caused to the IT and business teams is imminently avoidable by following the process the way it should be, the urgency on the part of the sales person and his/her manager ensuring that targets do not override good business practices. It is not okay to withhold information or bend the process to fit the tools, neither it is acceptable for the CIO to allow leeway in the due diligence process. Even with rigor practised it is probable that some critical elements may remain uncovered. The Business IT teams will have to manage such exceptions (not a rule).

The luxury of time always eludes us in such activities; many a times deferred decisions put pressure on delivery of milestones thereby compromising quality or extended timelines and sliding targets to fix issues that could have been avoided with collaboration from both sides. Good practice is a result of everyone being on the same side of the table; a skilful CIO should and will recognize the body language when the problem is being twisted to fit the solution.

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