LinuxWorld: Tackle business risks first, CIOs cautioned

CIOs who are serious about mitigating the risk of an IT project going awry even before it takes off, should focus on business as well as technical risks.

That was the message of consultants Jack Senechal and Sue Menard at Linux and Network World Expo being held at the Toronto Metro Convention centre this week.

In fact, according to Senechal and Menard, business process risks are often far greater than technical ones. The two are partners at Toronto-based consultancy firm Dijon Group. They were speaking at a session titled: ‘Major solution implementation: beyond the technical.’

According to Senechal and Menard, business process risk has to do principally with the negative mind-set of staff in a company where a new project is being implanted.

This perspective prevents employees from accepting a new or improved product. “Their most common argument is the new offering is different and seemingly more complicated than the one they used earlier,” said Menard.

She recounted how the director of admissions in a prominent Canadian university, refused to use an IT system at the last stage of the project as he found the new technology too complex. “In the end, another software application had to be used. This resulted in the project cost increasing by an additional half-a-million dollars. He did not want to learn anything new, but nobody took note of that until it was too late.”

According to Senechal, such disasters occur as most CIOs fail to assess business process hazards before starting a project. “The emphasis,” he said, “remains on technical risks that are easily identified and rectified by the addition of hardware and software. Business process risks that deal with stakeholders are not easily identifiable. So they are ignored and this jeopardizes the project.”

The sad truth, he said, is that even when stakeholders say they are ready for the solution “when they rubber hits the road, they balk.”

Senechal has a simple recommendation for avoiding such unfortunate situations.

It includes communicating with employees at every level about changes that the new technology will bring about.

Information technology by its very nature alters the way business functions, he said, and ROI depends on the effectiveness of this transformation. “Project leaders have to make it clear to all concerned that the new system may not make their lives easier but it will be more effective than the earlier, outdated one.”

Menard urges companies – before making any major IT investment – to review every business process to discover if the software will match the expectations of people using it. In this way, she said, potential dissatisfied users can be identified. “That way you can start working on human brickwalls before rolling out the technical stuff.”

She said companies have the option of hiring consultants that specialize in business process risk to do this work.

A group session between the business and IT side of project is the next step. Senechal compared such sessions to marriage therapy. “The difference between what the business side hears, and what IT says is similar to a husband and wife talking and listening in a marriage therapy session.”

Emphasizing right timing Menard said these sessions should be held in the initial stages of the project.

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