Continuous IT Investment: You Cannot Afford To Stand Still

(By Mike Raftery)

Despite the project plan, there’s never an end date.  That’s if you want it to really realize the potential of the initial IT investment.  In order to stay ahead of the competition and make the most of the technology investment in your supply chain, you truly need to keep moving forward on all fronts.  Without a continually updated roadmap that provides a vision and direction for both your IT and business organization, your investment loses its value and even more importantly, its utility, faster than anyone anticipated.

Just like sharks must keep swimming to stay alive, so must your organization keep moving forward with its process, tools and technology to ensure that they meet not just the needs of your business today, but that you can anticipate the needs of tomorrow.

Process – It is important to first look at process and procedures before any further investment in tools and technology, as you evolve and change as a company.  If it is at all feasible to do, changing a process is the most cost efficient way to realize any benefit.  System changes are expensive, risky and time consuming, so avoiding them where it makes sense is important to do.  This requires a firm understanding of what your users are actually doing from a process perspective and recommending different, more efficient alternatives to achieve the same result.

The stereotypical one I always think of is the dreaded “custom report.”  While everyone has their own preference for how to manage information, giving each user their own report is unmanageable to support and maintain.  Instead, if as an organization, you can align to a common method of displaying and utilizing the same base information as a best practice, this requirement becomes much more manageable.  However, this is hard to do in a project.  It is much easier to just write a check and give everyone their own report.  While easier, it sets your organization up for maintenance headaches and ownership conflicts for a long time to come.  So take the long view, and focus on process as much as possible before throwing money at the issue.

Process also means evolving the current procedures to meet the changing business climate.  Just because the implementation project ended does not mean that the design, and especially the delivered processes, can not change.  As a continuous improvement effort, there should always be someone in the organization that focuses on getting more value out of the existing toolset.  Focusing that resource on process changes and efficiencies is the best way to make sure you increase the utility and extend the useful life of your system investment as long as possible.

Technology – At the risk of overloading the blog with clichés, “change is the only constant.”  Businesses change, new opportunities arise, and ‘nice to have’ requirements become must haves.  As a result, you need to plan for the unknown.  It’s naïve to assume that the investments will stop, even if the scope is not currently known.  So plan for the unknown, earmark some funds for unanticipated changes.  If at all possible, the best plan is to give the business the control over those funds.  It ensures that the technology meets the priorities of the business and that changes do not just occur for the sake of change.

There’s always the inevitable maintenance required for performance, archiving and upgrades.  These need to be accounted for and treated, not just as technology upgrades, but as additional opportunities for business to take advantage of the changes.  Whether it’s improved SLA, new features or just an improved user interface, any technology upgrade needs to be analyzed for business benefits, even if it is just incidental.  After all, you are not in the business of maintaining the system; you’re in the business of doing business.

Roadmap – The best investment you can make is time.  Time to discuss, understand and align on a single strategic direction between the business you support and your IT project plans.  The future will be so much brighter if both the technology and business representatives can align on a strategic direction, to anticipate and collaborate on a single effort in an ongoing basis.  A consolidated and aligned message on future funding requests, project plans and gap closures will result in a combined effort that ensures optimal results for everyone involved.  The IT organization can plan staffing levels, build skillsets and coordinate projects, while the business side can ensure changing requirements are met, and investments result in the optimal returns to keep their competitive advantage.  Bottom line: the entire company benefits when IT and business are working from the same playbook.

Any IT investment should be managed as a component in a larger portfolio, rather than an isolated project.  Building a coordinated roadmap of process and technology efforts will result in a higher return on investment, not just in money, but time, and resources as well.  Expect to evolve and change together and all sides come out ahead.

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