Technology gets a bad press. We tend not to hear about the success stories - it's the failures that make the headlines.
Any of us trying to deliver major systems and platforms in this environment finds the going tough - and it is a risky business. Often the technology is the least of our problems as we seek to alter the way people work and encounter all the issues of cultural change.
For those at the leading edge, a 100% project success rate is an unrealistic aspiration. Similarly delivering services at reasonable cost with no downtime is unattainable. Everybody is familiar with the time, cost and quality trade-off and the pressures on them to deliver more with less.
Managing expectations is crucial in ensuring that business colleagues have a realistic understanding of what can be achieved within any given timescale and cost. Fortunately there is increased recognition that the world of technology is complex and those that manage it face a difficult challenge.
The days when the IT function was bullied into deadlines it did not believe in are over and the chief information officer is now in a key position to influence company decisions and ensure realistic approaches to project and service delivery.
But against this background the CIO is rightly expected to perform and lead successful investments rather than costly failures. What can they do to ensure this expectation is met?
Culture within the IT department is crucial - a success
The performance of project and service managers is key to this. Investment in them as individuals is important - listening to what they have to say and how they recommend going forward.
For new projects, the line I have always adopted is to ensure a thorough process at the start of the project leading to a commitment by those involved to deliver to a plan they have developed. That is the opportunity they have to influence the various factors and this I have made clear to them.
After that I have left them in no doubt that I have an absolute expectation that they will deliver against what they have committed to. Simple but effective. I have rarely been disappointed and instead pleasantly surprised on many occasions by what people are capable of.
Service delivery is all about effective management coupled with educating business colleagues on service level agreements (SLAs) and the cost implications of different service levels. In these times of cost containment, it is worth remembering how much money can be saved by regular reviews of the continuing requirement for a particular service and the level of provision.
I have found it very effective to sit down with fellow directors every so often and remind them how much specific services cost - it is not unusual for someone in their division to be seeking to perpetuate something that senior managers no longer see the need for.
Whatever approach works for you, apply it as a real priority to underpin project and service delivery. Unless you are seen as successful in delivering what the company needs nobody is going to listen to you at the strategic level - why should they?
There are some things business colleagues just expect of you. You must get it right to achieve a wider credibility in their eyes.
John Handby is chief executive of CIO Connect, the UK forum for senior IT executives. He has held a succession of CIO positions for major organisations including Glaxo Wellcome, National Power, Consignia (formerly the Post Office) and in central government.