Search Engine: Making the right IT investment decisions

Good things come in threes. So here are three information sources to help ensure you make the right investment decisions.

Setting the direction for your IT efforts

S.J. Gaston’s Getting the Right Systems at the Right Price — Strategies for Senior Management is a book I’ve found informative and extremely useful over the years. In fact, I’d rate it one of the top ten IT books of the past decade. One of the key reasons for this high rating is the numerous principles and strategies provided for ensuring effective system acquisition and implementation efforts — all drawn from Jim’s extensive experience on the front lines of reviewing IT Management.

For example, in regards to the outsourcing of IT efforts Jim indicates that “no matter how many functions or application development projects are turned over to third parties, the organization should retain sufficient personnel to protect its interests and to ensure the work of third parties is well done at a fair price.”

The book presents in a clear, concise manner the reasons why executive management needs to get involved in all major IT initiatives. Jim also focuses on educating the CEO and CFO and provides the rationale and support for concentrated involvement by senior management in their organization’s IT efforts. Without “engaged” and sustained involvement of senior executives, IT initiatives risk not delivering their results in a timely and appropriate manner.

While there is no silver bullet in building executive management support for the CIO’s efforts, this book comes close. Jim indicates that in writing this book he was targeting the senior management audience. He has focused on ensuring senior management is leading the efforts to define strategic goals for IT efforts and putting into place an effective organization to deliver the IT results needed. Jim has achieved the above and more.

Every CIO should consider passing a copy of this book to his/her CEO and CFO to initiate some interesting and useful discussions on who should be doing what with whom.

Establishing the management framework for your IT Investments

The Enhance Management Framework (EMF) Initiative is a multi-year effort devoted to improving the IT management practices within the Canadian Federal Government. The CIO’s Office within the Treasury Board of Canada has been leading this effort since 1993. The products that have been developed can be applied in both the public and private sector. In the past year an increased focus has been paid to portfolio management.

Check out the Web site map to access leading edge material (at no cost). The site has continually evolved over the past seven years and includes numerous tools and reports in the support of project management, risk management and systems planning and acquisition. Various spreadsheets, guidance papers, and best practice studies are all available at this Web site.

The project manager’s handbook at is extensive, modular, and invaluable for the new and experienced project manager. The content is extremely comprehensive and answers many of the “what if” questions that come up throughout a project. Spend time reviewing it’s content periodically and also consider re-visiting the site at key milestones of any major system initiative you are working on. Finally, I recommend forwarding these two links to all the project managers within your organization.

Improving your IT Investment Management efforts

A formal IT investment management process is the most effective method of ensuring your IT project portfolio (priorities) is continually aligned with business priorities. Every organization should implement some sort of management process for setting IT priorities. Regular discussions with the executive management committee on the efforts of the IT shop are always extremely worthwhile.

The US General Accounting Office (GAO) recently completed a best practice study of IT Investment Management practices. Their report is called Information Technology Investment Management: A Framework for Assessing and Improving Process Maturity.

The real usefulness of this paper is the comprehensive description of the natural evolution, i.e. maturity levels for the IT Investment Management process.

Their 170+ page report provides a true roadmap of the journey. The five stages of maturity includes: creating an investment awareness, building the investment foundations, developing a complete investment portfolio and leveraging IT for strategic outcomes.

It also provides numerous strategies and helpful hints in strengthening management practices every step of the way.

The key IT Management processes highlighted by the report include: selection, control, and evaluation processes, IT investment board operations, project oversight, asset tracking, business needs identification for IT projects, proposal selection, authority alignment of IT investment boards and more.

I’d pass a copy of this report to every person involved with your IT strategic planning.

Finally, the GAO have developed several other really excellent “best practices” reports regarding IM/IT practices and other Management Practices over the past few years. Check out the various reports available at GAO’s Web site.

Dan Swanson, CMA, CISSP, CISA, CAP is a Winnipeg-based management consultant and frequent writer on IT audit and management practices.</i

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