In order for choices about and investments in IT initiatives to be successful...
- They must be driven by organizational objectives
- Leadership must take responsibility for their success
- They should be combined with investments in building management capacity
#1: IT initiatives and their managers must be driven by organizational objectives.Too often, IT is placed in a "silo" as a support function. As a result, most technology options are then examined as a solution to some problem, not as an investment in accomplishing the mission of the organization. Ideally, priorities and decisions about technology are made from a shared understanding of the general priorities of the organization.
"IT projects must be subjected to business-case assessments before launch," MQ writes, identifying:
- Which organizational objectives & desired outcomes will be advanced by the IT initiative?
- What are the upfront and ongoing costs?
- What other resources and capacity are required to sustain the initiative?
- What benefits can be expected from the IT initiative?
- understands the business of organization the same way other senior leaders do, but can also be perceived as "one of us" by IT staff;
- uses the same language that other senior leaders do;
- thinks about IT initiatives as business (not technology) solutions;
- assesses IT initiatives with business metrics (i.e., organizational objectives to achieve mission).
But success also requires that program directors understand the role technology plays to support programs and take responsibility for that role:
#2: The responsibility for the success of IT in the organization lies with organizational and program directors.
In a 2003 study (4), MQ found that while 90% of directors expect their program directors to:
- identify IT investments needed to implement programmatic strategies,
- support, monitor and assess the implementation of IT projects,
- help make IT investment and budget decisions, and
- make the procedural and organizational changes that technology implementations require,
Many organizational directors delegate IT policymaking to a committee system. But without authority, such systems are "like a vehicle without an engine," leading to IT investments that generate only marginal returns. In addition, if the make-up of the committee is too junior, the group risks missing key issues such as:
- What is the role of IT in this organization?
- How do we measure its impact on the organizational objectives?
- What strategies are competitors pursuing?
- What constitutes best or promising practices?
MQ insists that senior level execs must take responsibility for IT, going as far as to say that no IT project should be funded unless a senior executive is willing to take responsibility for the results up front, "to ensure their successful completion. These leaders must own decisions instead of just making them and assuming that someone else will be accountable." In an environment of such accountability, IT investments are more likely to be concentrated on a smaller number of high-impact areas, jettisoning the many "cool" but non-essential technology "baubles."
But what would this look like? To enable program directors to think about the role technology can play to achieve their desired programmatic outcomes, they must:
- Have greater involvement in the planning and development of IT Projects.
- Provide greater oversight and management of IT Projects
- Draw IT managers more closely into programmatic work where they can be made more accountable for the performance of programs and where IT and Program develop joint goals.
In such an environment, IT is no longer a "support" function; it "spans business unites and functions and connects organizations to partners and customers... and fosters improvements and competitive advantage." Therefore, its role is fundamental to an organization's success. Without such involvement, IT will have "only a limited sense of what the [program] wants, inevitably suppl[ying] it with a product that is less functional than it expects or even needs."
#3: Investments in Building Technology Capacity Should be Paired with Investments in Building Management Capacity.Several articles about managing technology are not free from the McKinsey Quarterly web site. One of them, shared with me by a colleague, summarized research conducted by McKinsey & Company on the benefits of investments made in technology capacity.
In the manufacturing sector, at least, investments in technology capacity produced far fewer increases in productivity than investments in management capacity, but investments in both significantly increased both productivity and financial returns on investment.
The researchers recommended that before a company makes a significant investment in technology, it should invest first in building the capacity of its management.MQ found that companies that adopt these practices "are improving their return on investment and managing their IT costs more successfully."
Links to original McKinsey Quarterly articles:
(Note McKinsey Quarterly requires a free registration to access its free articles. You will also find there links to their “premium” articles which requires a paid subscription.)
- What IT Leaders Do, by Eric Monnoyer and Paul Willmott, Web exclusive, August 2005
- Managing Next-generation IT infrastructure, by James M. Kaplan, Markus Loeffler, Roger P. Roberts, Web exclusive, February 2005
- Next-generation CIOs, by David Mark and Eric Monnoyer, Web exclusive, July 2004
- What CEOs Really Think about IT, by Eric Monnoyer, 2003, Number 3
- Who is Accountable for IT? By Dan Lohmeyer, Sofya Pogreb, Scott Robinson, 2002 Special Edition: Technology.
- "When IT lifts productivity," by Stephen J. Dorgan and John J. Dowdy, The McKinsey Quarterly, 2004, Number 4. Premium Subscription Required.
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