Nitin Pradhan is the former award winning CIO of the US Department of Transportation and the Managing Partner of GOVonomy, a strategic technology sourcing and Public Private Innovations Initiative for the US public sector. Readers can connect with him on LinkedIn. (Courtesy Photo)
I have been in IT leadership positions for more than 15 years and had oversight of many technology projects; some have been highly successful, and others have not. So the question I asked myself was, are there some key predictive indicators that make certain technology projects more likely to succeed over others? The simple answer to that question is absolutely yes!
What is Success? Let us start by defining what a successful technology project is. Successful projects are implemented in or under time and budget, deliver or exceed the expected results, and make the organizations customers and leadership happy while enabling IT to operationally maintain and upgrade the underlying technology infrastructure painlessly.
Technology Happiness Index: Let me now start by explaining my key predictive indicators for technology project success based on the “Technology Happiness Index (THI)” I developed to guide my mental strategy:
■ Quality of the Problem: Selecting which problem to address through a technology solution has a huge impact on the success of the project. In my experience, specific, targeted, intensely painful problems affecting a large swath of the organization, its customers or partners are ideal opportunities. Vague problems affecting narrow band of people have low success. Solutions in search of a problem always fail.
■ Quality of the Solution: It is obvious that delivering a quality solution is a key ingredient for success. However, I mention this fact now as later in the article I will compare three different options for technology solutions delivery – custom development, systems integration and Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) products and discuss how they widely vary in the successful delivery of technology projects.
■ Effectiveness of Procurement: Procuring technology is complex in general. It is made harder in government with complex acquisition regulations, overburdened procurement staff, insufficient budgets and constant vendor protests. If you want to make sure you want a successful project, having effective and efficient technology procurement options and process helps. Prolonged procurement process leads to demoralized customers and IT staff and sucks the fun out of new projects.
■ Innovation and Agility: Introducing innovation and agility through technology has a remarkably positive impact on success. Human mind craves for newer, better and more flexible solutions and not older, obsolete or rigid options. Technology is inevitably linked with innovation and agility. Thus, introducing older generation technology, especially one with low agility for customers and operators will get you off on the wrong footing and doom the project right at the inception.
■ Speed of Implementation: I have learnt through experience that the faster the technology project can be implemented the better its success. Over time, the original problems change, solutions become obsolete, customers and IT get frustrated, sponsors (elected administration) leave, Congress gets involved in day-to-day oversight and projects over run planned budgets. All of these are recipes for a disaster. Manage technology projects in phases, with each phase having a clear customer focused end result.
■ Total Cost of Ownership: Today we live in an era of scarcity. Technology departments are consistently asked to produce more with less through unfunded mandates. Technology projects that hog resources during development, production or upgrade are simply unacceptable. Technology departments must look at the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) from initial roll out to final retirement of systems while making procurement decisions.
Types of technology solutions
Technology departments have three distinct options for technology solutions delivery: custom development, COTS products and systems integration.
Custom Development: In my experience, custom development has the lowest “Technology Happiness Index.” Custom development projects normally target complex, many times unrelated, unfocused problems leading to scope creep. The quality of custom solutions is unknown and cannot be tested in the beginning as the system is yet to be developed. Most government organizations rarely conduct the requirements gathering phase effectively impacting the solution. Procurement of such custom solutions is harder as comparing various vendors offering is more difficult with vendors having ample flexibility to quote low and modify later. Further, there is rarely any innovation in custom development, mainly due to cost reasons. Speed of implementation is slowest, while cost of development, maintenance and upgrade of this one of a kind solution is highest. Thus, organizations are best advised to only pursue custom development if systems integration and COTS solutions are not available.
Commercial Off The Shelf: COTS technology products are built for the masses. Such solutions encompass requirements from many different sources, are improved over several different versions and are therefore likely to be more complete and stable. Because these solutions are already built, they can be tested or their quality verified with existing customers. These are much cheaper to procure, maintain and upgrade as most commercial vendors offer complementary support plans. Finally, the speed of implementation, innovation and agility as well as ease of procurement is likely much higher for COTS products. My general rule of thumb is, if a COTS product solves 70 percent of your key requirements today, implement it today and push the vendor for addressing the balance 30 percent in future versions.
Systems Integration: A systems integrator is a company that specializes in bringing together components (preferably COTS) into a whole and ensuring that those subsystems function together. I like systems integrators who have access to a plethora of innovative and agile COTS products available for integration into a complete solution. This access improves the quality of the solution, its innovativeness, differentiation, speed of implementation while reducing the overall TCO. Such an approach is a healthy middle ground when direct COTS products installation is not an option.
At GOVonomy, we specialize in understanding government problems and opportunities, researching and assessing innovative technology solutions for them and then working with IT contractors to bring these to the public sector quickly. In the future columns, I am hoping to site specific government problems and then apply the THI methodology to locate the most efficient solution to help drive results. If you have an intense problem within your agency that begs for a technology solution or your company has an innovative product solution that works well for an intense problem than let me know! Together we can drive public value through private growth.
Nitin Pradhan is the former award winning CIO of the US Department of Transportation and the Managing Partner of GOVonomy, a strategic technology sourcing and Public Private Innovations Initiative for the US public sector. Readers can connect with him on LinkedIn.