I recently read an interesting article about how the UK police have set up an IT company, which has the remit to drive down IT cost whilst increasing IT innovation. This sounds sensible at first glance—after all, who wouldn’t want to drive down the cost of IT, right? Well, I think they’re missing something far more fundamental.
So often organizations focus on implementing IT as cheaply as possible and it appears that this is the objective of the UK Police Force. Whilst value for money is always important, a more important question should be “What problem are you trying to solve?” Unless you fully explore the problem, you’ll have no idea of whether IT is the best solution.
New IT isn’t always the most appropriate way to solve a problem. The UK police force should know this; they recently spent £71 million on blackberry devices and achieved a woeful return on their investment. They had hoped to save £125 million by enabling officers to complete routine paperwork whilst out on the street. It appears they had not fully understood the business problem, and as a result saved only £600,000 (a fraction of the implementation cost), with some police officers reporting that the devices meant that they had to spend more time on administration. A real own-goal!
Negotiating down the £71 million spend would have been damping down the fire. A far more effective tactic would be to cancel the project altogether. Rather than focusing on getting value for money from IT, organizations (including the police) should focus on doing the right thing to start with. They should critically evaluate all projects to establish the likely benefits, rather than just doing them cheaper.
Organizations often get blindsided and assume that IT will solve all their problems. I call this the “glossy brochure illusion,” as software often looks great in the brochure, but unless you have defined your problem it may actually hinder rather than help you.
The bottom line is that good quality business analysis helps organizations understand their problems. Before even considering IT, organizations need to:
- Understand the business problem or opportunity
- Understand the business processes and systems that are impacted
- Work with stakeholders to find out what they need in order to solve the problem or address the opportunity
- Establish which solutions (IT and non-IT) might solve that problem
- Work out the likely return on investment before committing their hard earned budget!
New IT may look glossy and sexy, but be sure you’ll reap the benefits before you buy it.