Project failure rate wearing thin: experts

The gap between what is promised and what IT teams can deliver must close if IT managers want to retain a good reputation, a CIO told a financial services audience Monday.

At the third annual Innovative IT Strategies for Financial Services conference, the CIO of Credit Union Central of Ontario , warned the audience that senior business staff of many enterprises are increasingly annoyed by failed projects and technology implementations that don’t pan out. IT is being taken more seriously, Norman Davidson said, and so it’s being paid more attention to and mistakes are being spotted.

“”I think patience is running out,”” he said.

To improve IT’s image, managers must make a serious effort to marry effective business practices to technology projects, something that is too often ignored, he said.

Not enough attention paid to business processes was creating frustration and challenges for the Bank of Montreal making the management team look to outsourcers instead of the internal IT resources, BMO IT service delivery manager Connie Smith agreed. Re-introducing efficiency into the system meant Smith’s team had to review and re-write a huge number of the bank’s service level agreements.

“”Our SLAs are so detailed that no one wants to read them,”” she said. “” They are written, signed off on and then just sit on the shelf.””

In practice that often meant support teams were not aware of their role in meeting customer expectations and would only find out the extent of their responsibility when a problem arose, Smith said.

“”Then there would be a lot of head scratching and people saying: ‘I didn’t know we were supposed to do that,'”” she said.

Ten months ago the Bank of Montreal launched a two-year project re-writing all of its SLAs to make them more comprehensible and useful. Smith said a big part of the project is making sure the agreements are specific enough and contain information that can be measured, providing a clear way to judge service levels.

Smith said her team has developed a standard SLA template and is now using it to get all SLAs down to less than 10 pages.

“”We haven’t reached 10 pages yet,”” she laughed.

But a good lesson her team learned, Smith said, is that IT objectives and the enterprise’s business objectives have to be viewed as one and the same.

And in spite of all the recent talk about the importance of IT initiatives meeting business objectives it still doesn’t happen enough, said VP and CIO of Sun Life Financial Canada, Brian Gill.

A solid execution plan is critical for any IT project, he said, since it can conceal shortfalls in other areas of the project but poor execution tends to overshadow success in all areas.

“”The bar on this one is highest now,”” Gill said. “”After some of the previous spectacular failures the tolerance levels are low. Our bosses don’t want to learn those same lessons again.””

The good news for an industry under increasing scrutiny? IT is now more than ever seen as a key component of the core functioning of any enterprise, Davidson said, especially in the financial industry where a vast majority of transactions are electronic.

Things are changing all the time today, he said, but much more change is coming.

“”The IT industry now is in the same spot the…automobile industry was in the 1920’s,”” Davidson said. “”Hold on to your hats.””

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