Why businesses still struggle with IT value

Fifteen years ago, my colleagues at the DMR Group and I wrote The Information Paradox, a book that introduced benefits realisation as a way to reduce the uncertainty around getting value from IT investments.

Since then, the body of knowledge around the topic of IT value has grown considerably.

And yet, the track record of getting value from IT investments remains dismal.

From the NHS’s disastrous National Program for IT to more recent fiascos in Queensland, New Zealand, and California, the litany of failed investments continues to grow.

The sad reality is that the take up of proven value management approaches is moving at a snail’s pace.

As Forrester Research analyst Craig Symons once commented, “One of the things that never ceases to surprise me is that IT investment management … has been around since 1981 yet remains very immature in many organisations.”

Meanwhile, we are seeing seismic shifts in the way IT is delivered and used. These include :

  • Increased adoption of cloud computing, which fundamentally changes the IT delivery model
  • The explosion of big data, which extends analytics to incorporate historical data, real-time data, and unstructured data, and which is making data analysis available to a greater number of organizations, regardless of size
  • Mobility, consumerisation, BYOD and social media, which are fundamentally changing how, where and when we interact with technology, access information and collaborate
  • The Internet of things, in which everything talks to everything via the Internet. This opens up significant opportunities, as well as unprecedented challenges in security, data privacy, safety, governance and trust
  • Artificial intelligence and algorithmic computing, which have considerable potential to change the nature of work

This not an exhaustive list, but it begins to capture the essence and magnitude of the changes, and the business changes that will be required for organisations to realise value from their use of these technologies.

Board recognition

Given the amount of press that failed IT projects attract, it is hard to believe that any board member or executive is not aware of the problems associated with realising demonstrable value from IT investments.

Yet, many still appear to be in denial, and where there is awareness of the problem, responsibility for addressing is abdicated to the IT function.

But this is not a technology problem. It is a business problem.

Value does not come from technology itself. It comes from how the change that technology both shapes and enables the organisation. This involves rethinking the business: the business model, business processes, people skills and competencies, organisational structure, physical facilities, and more besides.

Unfortunately, our understanding of the nature of change and how to govern and manage it has not kept pace with the rate of technology innovation.

As Geoff Codd says in The Drowning Director, “…many top people speak the language of change but have little understanding of what it all really means in practical terms”.

If we are to address the challenge of IT value, we must put much more focus on understanding the constraints to adopting proven governance and management approaches, and overcoming those constraints.

I will expand on this in forthcoming articles for Information Age.

John Thorp is thought leader in the field of value and benefits management, with close to 50 years' experience covering all aspects of the information management field, including technical, management and executive position. He is author of The Information Paradox


Alan Dobie

Alan Dobie is assistant editor at Vitesse Media Plc. He has over 17 years of experience in the publishing industry and has held a number of senior writing, editing and sub-editing roles. Prior to his current...

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