Business needs IT at its heart

Imagine a world where most major businesses experienced failed construction projects every year - where our cities were cluttered...

Imagine a world where most major businesses experienced failed construction projects every year - where our cities were cluttered with incomplete buildings, or the rubble of those that had collapsed while being built. Imagine the wasted resources and skills, and the impact on the businesses which had to meet the costs. Imagine the impact on the credibility of the construction industry.

A ridiculous scenario, you might think. Yet in the world of IT projects, this is reality.

In a recent survey conducted by KPMG more than half of the major companies questioned admitted that they have experienced failed IT projects in the past year. The research, involving 134 listed firms in the UK, Europe, the US, Australia and Africa, found that the average cost of failed projects was £8m. One firm admitted that a single project failure in 2002 had cost it £133m.

The high failure rate for IT projects - and the high cost - will come as no surprise to most IT professionals. Research going back a decade or more produced similar findings. If you have been involved in IT in a major company for a year or more, the chances are that you have had direct experience of at least one IT project that has gone off the rails.

But this simply makes the findings even more depressing. We know that IT projects have an appalling track record yet we keep making the same mistakes, and the failures keep piling up.

The good news is that, if we only looked, we know why so many IT projects fail, and what we need to do to improve the poor success rate. Research conducted by Computer Weekly and The Coverdale Organisation last year confirmed what anecdotal evidence had already told us - that strong leadership, clarity of objectives, good communications and the effective involvement of stakeholders are the keys to unlocking IT project success.

It is certainly not fundamental technical problems that cause most IT project failures. The wave of failed enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management (CRM) projects in the past few years have not come about because of problems with the technology supplied by SAP or Siebel. Almost all have resulted from a failure to mesh the project effectively into the business, and to implement the business process changes required to reap the benefits.

The reasons why we keep ignoring these lessons cuts to the heart of what is probably the biggest single issue facing business IT today: the disconnect between the IT function and the rest of the business in most organisations. IT is now right at the heart of business. Yet in most organisations it is still treated like a semi-detached offshoot.

Projects such as CRM implementations are still labelled as IT projects, rather than key business projects underpinned or enabled by IT. Chief executives still fail to show enough support and personal commitment to these projects, or fail to monitor them effectively. In most organisations the fracture line goes from the top all the way down, making it almost impossible to achieve good communications, clarity of objectives and effective stakeholder involvement.

To make sure more projects succeed we have to bridge this divide. And given the increasingly important role that IT now plays in business, much more is at stake than just the credibility of IT.

Read more on IT project management

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