Cost control key to IT projects, say experts

He may not have said it out loud, but Kelvin Cantafio’s message was clear – good IT planning is the difference between life and death in his organization.

Cantafio, the director of technology at global children’s charity group Plan International, said his group couldn’t afford the cost of any mismanaged administration or IT dollars. With less than 20 per cent of total donations going towards that budget, he has to figure out how to make sure all funds are wisely spent.

“Eighty-one percent of the money (donated) goes towards implementing help,” he said. “From our perspective, we have to make sure we have the maximum impact with our money. We can’t afford to make mistakes.”

That’s because Plan looks after some of the needs of about 1.2 million children in countries all over the world – including countries that often don’t have telephones, let alone broadband, adding to the already complex system of challenges, Cantafio added.

“But a lot of work and effort goes into making sure that we have accurate information about those children,” he said.

Part of the effort is creating an effective plan of action for the IT budget, a practice that more and more businesses and organizations are looking at in times of economic belt-tightening, said Barbara Hall, senior research analyst of Canadian consulting and integration services at IDC Canada in Toronto.

“People have to rationalize all their products now,” she said. “You can’t just go with something that’s hot, you have to have business benefits behind it and, in this environment, the new driver is cost-efficiency, and how much money can you save. It’s not about revenue generation right now.”

With that trend in mind, Toronto-based Sage Information Consultants launched the formation of its Strategic Services Practice yesterday. The package works with clients to clarify IT direction and ensure initiatives are inline with corporate goals.

Chetan Mathur, Sage’s CEO, said his company was just responding to people who want to “get back to basics.”

“As IT budgets have been cut, people are trying to do more in-house with their own staff,” he said. “We are noticing that all our customers are scrutinizing every initiative they take. They are not afraid of saying: ‘Hey forget about it, we are not doing it’.”

Mathur said the day of a 12-month, 15-person project is gone and customers are asking for “quick hits” in four months and return on investment estimations faster.

“They want us to make them understand what’s important to the business,” he said.

The new Strategic Services Practice will consist of 18 employees and support the company’s vertical focus in the areas of knowledge management, infrastructure, business operations and e-commerce.

Patterson Shafer, the practice leader for strategic services, outlined the four offerings, which include; e-business summit, bringing leadership and key employees together to identify opportunities; strategic roadmaps, which define the e-business strategy; prioritization; and governance.

“One of the things that we found is that we get called in when things are not going perfectly,” Shafer said. “There are a few companies that can anticipate that they will need some guidance, but often, it’s because there are problems.”

There are more problems than many think, he continued. Market research firm Gartner Inc. found that almost 80 per cent of IT initiatives fail on the first try.

Hall said that Sage’s plan is well suited to companies that have a lot of IT already.

“People have gone and implemented all these things and were sold on big benefits and ROIs and they had no way of know what it was doing for them,” she said. “In this economy, the Balanced Scorecard sort of thing is key. We are finding more demand for those kinds of services.”

Like Plan’s Cantafio, Doug Wigmore, the director of MIS at Panasonic, saw a need for a new way of implementing a strategy at his company about four years ago when he solicited Sage to help.

Sage’s plan for Panasonic allows dealers across the country to be able to login and check for and order repair manuals for various products, saving time in telephone calls and faxing time, said Wigmore.

“Our initiatives are supported by technology,” he said about Panasonic. “We started with Sage with an infrastructure project. We went through the dot-com craze and the Y2K issue with them successfully. IT people worry about this at night when they go home, you know. They don’t eat – they think about infrastructure.”

Sage Consultants in Toronto is at IDC Canada in Toronto is at Panasonic in Toronto is at Plan International in Toronto is at