Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Four steps to getting the most out of your IT

In the fight to secure funds for new investments it is important not to lose sight of the IT spend that has already been made. In most organisations, key business activities depend on IT systems that were put in place years ago. Most of the IT budget goes on keeping these systems running, yet all too often we only worry about them when there is a problem or we need to save money.

The challenge is one of benefits exploitation ­ the adoption of a portfolio of practices to realise the potential benefits from information, applications, and IT services over their operational life. In many organisations, IT benefits exploitation is left to chance.

One major issue is the ongoing provision of education and training ­ how do new staff learn about the possibilities of IT and how to benefit from them? Information is passed on in an organisational form of Chinese whispers. The knowledge of what is possible and how to use the full potential of the technology is quickly fragmented and lost.

A second issue is that the initial training is only a start. What provisions are there for ongoing learning and the realisation of further benefits? Take Microsoft Office ­ is it still true that 80 per cent of the new features requested by users were already in the software? Why are we not using more of what is available? There is great potential to work more productively if only we knew what was possible and had help to learn quickly and at low risk. This is true of virtually any software application.

On the basis of our research we identified four broad levels of organisational maturity in relation to benefits exploitation:

Level 1: Ongoing education

The first stage is a focus on ongoing education and training for users. This is a responsibility of the process/system/service owner and should also be a focus of local business management.

Level 2: Ongoing exploitation

Many technologies are not fixed on implementation but lead to an ongoing cycle of innovation and change as the system extends the intellect of its users, leading to further innovation. The challenge is to make it happen. Some of this happens very informally, so we need to give it more focus.

Level 3: A different perspective on projects

The agile approach of user engagement and rapid incremental delivery through a series of short projects is very effective, but it is not enough. We also need to think harder about project design so there is greater planning and resourcing for learning and improvement after software deployment ­ not necessarily of the software itself, but how we use it to realise benefits.

Level 4: Improving knowledge worker productivity

There is a shocking and almost universal lack of focus on how to use IT to improve productivity. There are many opportunities for organisations to re-focus their efforts on the exploitation of IT to improve productivity for knowledge workers.

The first step to achieve better benefits exploitation is clear ownership. There is a great opportunity here for the IT function to work with business colleagues, and perhaps such a focus will also demonstrate value, build trust and unlock funds for some of those new investments.


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