I hazard a guess that if you were to hear the phrase “IT threat”, you would immediately think of viruses, worms, malware and fraud. All of these present a real threat to businesses, but what if I were to tell you that there is a threat that is just as significant that is hardly ever mentioned? A threat that can cause companies to stagnate, lose money, and become unable to keep up with their competitors. A threat that is of particular relevance to growing and mid-size companies who are intending to expand their IT estate.
The threat I’m writing about is very real. It causes governments and companies of all size to lose money. The symptoms are easy to observe, but the root-cause of the threat is hidden and insidious. Although the symptoms appear IT related, the root-cause is very much a human problem. What is the threat I’m referring to? I call it the glossy brochure illusion. Let me explain….
As organisations grow, they’ll often (quite rationally) look to optimise and automate parts of their operations. IT solutions can undoubtedly help with this – for example, perhaps an organisation moves away from using a simple Excel spreadsheet to track its clients and installs a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) package. If installed and configured correctly, if the solution interfaces well with the businesses processes and if adopted by its users, then this will undoubtedly create efficiencies and give better visibility of data. However, corporations are littered with systems that don’t quite work as they’d hoped (or worse still don’t work at all), that cost them more to run than they’d ever anticipated. In some cases organisations are still maintaining systems that have long since been abandoned by the very users that they were supposed to help. Even worse, these systems can cause paralysis as organisations implement “solution” after “solution”, each time compounding previous issues.
One cause of these harmful and costly problems starts long before any IT system is installed. The problem manifests itself when organisations want to implement a solution “quickly” and don’t spend the time understanding the problem they are trying to solve. Often they will start by deciding what type of solution they want before assessing their needs… this is where the glossy brochure illusion can occur.
I’m sure we’ve all seen – and suffered from – the glossy brochure illusion in our own lives. Have you ever seen a gadget advertised you just have to go and buy? But then three months on, it ends up collecting dust in a cupboard (because you’ve realised that you didn’t really need a self-stirring coffee mug anyway?). If you’re anything like me, you have a cupboard full of things like this. And the scary thing is that many large and mid-size organisations have cupboards full of things like this too. (Except they store their gadgets in server-racks rather than cupboards).
This can happen when a software user, an exec or a stakeholder falls in love with the idea of a particular software system – perhaps after seeing it in a glossy brochure at a trade show, or perhaps after talking to a persuasive salesperson. They decide to implement the software at pace… without spending sufficient time assessing the organisation’s needs.
The simple reality is that without an understanding of the business problem that is being solved, an organisation simply shouldn’t commit to IT spending.
Taking the hypothetical CRM example I cited earlier; depending on the organisation’s needs, it might find that a Contact Management, Contract Management, or even a full-service accounting package is more suitable for its needs. But by narrowing the focus to “CRM” before the problem has been defined means these options won’t even be considered.
To use an analogy – you might love the idea of driving a two-seater convertible sports car. But if you also need to carry 3 kids around, if you have a 100 mile commute and if fuel efficiency is important to you, then perhaps a sturdy family car would better meet your needs.
Conclusion: Always start with the problem
Before considering whether IT can help solve a problem, an organisation should take time to understand:
- The problem it is trying to solve
- The business processes it wants to improve or automate (and these should be simplified as much as possible before considering implementing IT!)
- The needs and wants of the stakeholders who will be affected (e.g. the people who will use the system)
- The data that the system needs to capture and store
- Any required interfaces with other systems and processes
In any case, organisations should resist the temptation to “jump in” and implement a solution without sufficient forethought. Work with your software vendor to understand the capabilities of their solution, and make sure it’ll add value, drive sales or save money.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.