Many IT groups become very frustrated when proposing upgrades for business systems, only to be denied. The problem is that while IT may see many benefits, that doesn’t mean that senior management feels the same way.
First off, many management teams still are jaded by failed promises during the dot-com era. Far too many magical solutions failed to ever work as promised and management has heard one too many horror stories both internally and in the trade press to blindly trust IT to deliver business benefits.
To be brutally honest, they shouldn’t rely on IT alone, nor should IT have to promote upgrades by themselves. IT exists to enable the business -– not supplant the business — and this requires two-way cooperation between IT and its customers.
IT is a force multiplier for organizations and, as such, investments should be made that will yield the greatest return for the business overall. Management must take care that investments benefit the overall corporate system and not just a local department, site, etc. The people best equipped to understand what is needed to compete is the business -– not IT -– and therefore it takes the voices of the business and IT in concert to “sell” new and/or upgraded services to senior management together.
Think about the scenario from the perspective of senior management for a moment. To meet the expectations of the Board, investors and so on, some level of return on investment is needed. This means that senior management must look at a combination of increased sales, managed inventory and operating expenses. To really excel we need to address all three areas together for the greatest gains.
Positioning Your Proposal
With this in mind, senior management has a certain amount of money it can afford to invest back into the business to get the best returns possible. As you can imagine, at any given time management has many different groups clamoring for funding, all making promises of some type of improvement. Management will review proposals knowing that some promised benefits are unattainable and skip the proposal -– perhaps even casting a negative mark toward the group making the proposal.
Take a moment and go through a mental exercise of asking yourself some business questions: If you were a senior manager and had to ensure that profits were maximized, what would you fund? What projects would move us closer to our goal? What projects have the most acceptable balance of risk and reward? What must you understand from proposals in order to make a proper decision?
When IT drives investment, then that is known as a “technology push” situation. In these cases, IT is attempting to “push” technology based on their opinions that are, in turn, based on what is happening in the market, vendor promises, perceptions of internal need and so on.
There are significant risks associated with this approach in that the promised returns may not be realized for a variety of reasons including internal resistance to change and misunderstanding of need. Some of the resistance may be well justified as in the end it is not IT that must meet business objectives; it is the business units themselves and they may have insights as to how things should work given their situation.
Lastly, as mentioned, IT is not the business and subtle nuances may be lost between what IT perceives relative to what is needed and their relative priorities.
Instead, we want the business to be involved with IT, understand developments, and “pull” technology into operational use. Instead of IT driving the need to improve, it is the business that is working with IT to identify how technology investments will make the business more productive and drive the organization toward its goals. This is a very different and far more appealing scenario because the level of understanding is fundamentally different for both groups and just as importantly, the commitment to the proposal is owned by both groups.
For IT groups wanting to upgrade systems today, take a step back and involve the business. There are two outcomes you must be prepared for. First, there is a very real possibility that no upgrade is justifiable to them. The best IT can do is to ensure that the business and management are aware of any risks that may be present and discuss what may happen over time if left unaddressed. (For example, if a technology is no longer supported because the vendor has dropped it or gone out of business.)
In terms of value, if senior management does not clearly see the cause and effect relationship between the expenditure and the promised returns that are needed to satisfy stakeholders, then no investment will be made. From this, one can infer that it is very important to clearly articulate the organizational advantages coming from an upgrade and this must be done in the language of the business -– not IT “geek-speak.”
The second potential outcome is that the business agrees that the upgrade will enable them to attain objectives by improving effectiveness, efficiency and economy. At the same time, some technologies may make sense to mitigate risks that, in turn, help better ensure that the objectives and goals can be met.
For whatever reasons that the business agrees, they must help support IT in proposing the upgrade to senior management for the investment to materialize. Again, IT assists the business and this means the business must also support IT in mutually proposing beneficial investments to senior management.
In summary, while IT may understand the business very well, there must be clearly identifiable relationships between service upgrades and organizational benefits. They must be delivered to senior management by IT and the business working together in tandem. The upgrade proposals must be communicated to senior management in such a way that there is no guesswork and the business case supporting the investment must be both attractive and conservative.
Yes, we’d like to upgrade necessary systems all of the time based on our perspective. The real question stems from “how will this upgrade help us attain our organization’s goals?” The answer to that question should drive what is done on behalf of the organization.