Thought for the day: Tight purse-strings are in

As the economy struggles on, companies are becoming more cost-conscious when delivering projects. Will this mean the end to...

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As the economy struggles on, companies are becoming more cost-conscious when delivering projects. Will this mean the end to customisation? asks Ed Darnell

 

 

 

The past couple of years have certainly been interesting times for the computing industry. But has it all been bad? Many projects have been shelved and many planned expenditures cancelled, so where is the evidence that this has done any harm?

For years we were told that there is a strong correlation between highly profitable companies and high levels of IT spend. Interestingly, this "truth" now appears to be under attack, with an ever-increasing body of experience suggesting that there is little or no evidence to support a causal link between IT spend and business success.

Instead it appears that what has been presented for years as evidence for the benefit of IT spending is simply a demonstration of the fact that those who can afford the most, spend the most - something which has not escaped the attention of eager suppliers.

Before we go too far with this argument, however, we should remember that you only need to remove a core IT system (e-mail in particular) from an organisation for an hour or so to see how fundamental the need for it is.

But the question remains, how much we should invest in these systems?

First look to where the costs lie, particularly in customisation. Examine any expensive IT project and you will inevitably find that manpower costs (both internal and external) are by far the most significant element. So why do we always have to embark on such huge customisation efforts?

We are about to see a rapid end to this, and with it the dawn of a new era of maturity in the IT industry. The reason we customise as much as we do is akin to why the largest companies spend most: simply because we can.

But what if a company were to take the opposite approach? What if, instead of trying to build big teams and projects, we tried to shrink teams as small as possible and deliver projects at the lowest cost possible? Customisation would have to go out of the window, and with it any supplier that required many months of effort to deliver its "out-of-the-box" solution.

Perhaps most interesting would be the change in role this would necessitate for IT professionals. If the drive to build bigger projects and teams became an invalid way to build a career, what would differentiate the best from the rest? The distinguishing factor is likely to be that much over-used phrase "business understanding", but with a difference.

The ability to see a real business issue and identify a simple, cost-efficient solution is what will set people apart. Too many IT professionals have demonstrated their ability to encode the complexity of their organisations' processes into hugely expensive custom solutions.

Far fewer have demonstrated an ability to see the inner simplicity within apparently complex problems and deliver a real competitive advantage to their organisation for minimal investment. This is a great shame, since is exactly what computer systems are good at.

It will be interesting to see whether successful companies learn to recruit individuals with these skills.

If they do, we will start to see an inverse correlation between business success and IT expenditure as large companies become the smartest at deploying IT, and highly expensive failed projects fade to a distant memory.

What do you think?

Is customisation being phased out in your IT department?  Tell us in an e-mail >> ComputerWeekly.com reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Ed Darnell is an interim IT director.

This was last published in April 2003

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