IT and Digital Failures – the Time for Study is Over – it’s Way Past Time for Action!

A recent article in diginomica, “Senate agrees to launch inquiry into Australia’s digital government failures” caught my eye. My immediate reaction was “Here we go again”, quickly followed by a somewhat more lyrical “When will they ever learn?”
The challenges of IT projects have been analyzed extensively over many decades. Most of us are familiar with The Standish Chaos Survey, the 2015 results of which reported successful projects constantly representing only ~30% of the 50,000 surveyed projects (where success is defined as on time, on budget and with a satisfactory result).

A 2012 Mckinsey article, based on research conducted on more than 5,400 IT projects by Mckinsey and the University of Oxford, found that half of large IT projects (costing >$ 15 million) massively blew their budgets. On average, large IT projects ran 45% over budget and 7% over time, while delivering 56% less value than predicted. The projects in total had a cost overrun of $66 billion, more than the GDP of Luxembourg. The impact of these failures is more than financial. In the case of healthcare, for example, the impact includes significant avoidable loss of life, pain and suffering.

More anecdotally, The International Project Leadership Academy Catalogue of Catastrophe records quite a few troubled projects from around the world, many, but not all of them IT projects. The list includes the UK’s NHS National Program for IT in Health, the original budget for which was $4.6 billion, which had risen to $24 billion when it was cancelled in 2010. At the time, and possibly still now, it was the world’s largest civil IT project.

Challenges to success – being on time, on budget, and achieving the expected value, are common across private and public sectors and across all jurisdictions. If one were to take all the studies, audit reports, and other post-mortem review of so-called “IT projects” or, more recently, “digital” initiatives, you could fill a medium-sized – possibly larger – library. The good news is that you would only have to read one or two of them to realize that they all came to basically the same conclusions, and made basically the same recommendations. It’s great business for consultants, as they can usually just dust off and tailor a previous report – a great but expensive example of re-use. Over the same time, research papers and articles beyond count have been written on this topic, and frameworks, methodologies, tools and techniques have been produced (almost) ad nauseam. Yet, despite this, very little has changed, other than that the impact of these failures, as technology becomes increasingly embedded in everything organizations do, is both more severe and more visible, not the least so in the public sector.

The underlying causes of both earlier “IT project” failures, and those of more recent “digital” initiatives are basically the same. They include:
1. A continued, often blind focus on the technology itself, rather than the change – increasingly significant and complex organizational change that technology both shapes and enables, and which is required if organizations are to come anywhere near realizing the potential value from their digital investments;
2. The unwillingness of business leaders to get engaged in, and take ownership of this change – preferring to abdicate their accountability to the IT function (I should add that I have also seen cases where IT leaders know this should be owned by the business leadership team, but do not believe that they have the competence to do so);
3. Failure to inclusively and continually involve the stakeholders affected by the change, without whose understanding and “buy in” failure is pretty much a foregone conclusion;
4. A lack of rigour at the front-end of an investment decision, including, what is almost universally a totally ineffective business case process, resulting in lack of clarity around the expected outcomes, the full scope of effort required, the assumptions being made, the risks involved, and how progress and success will be measured;
5. Not actively managing for value; and
6. Not managing the journey beyond the initial “project” completion.

A much over-used definition of insanity, commonly yet apparently inaccurately attributed to Albert Einstein, is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” This is certainly a good description of the where we are today. It should have been obvious to anyone reading any of the previously mentioned reports and studies that the issue of IT or digital failure needs to be re-framed from a technology delivery problem to a business problem of managing increasingly significant and complex organizational change. A business problem that has had a global cost estimated by Michael Krigsman, a respected industry analyst, to be in the order of $US3 trillion/year. And that cost doesn’t include opportunity cost – the non-realization of expected value.

So, why is it that business leaders – in both the private and public sector, have not stepped up to the plate? Despite the term “digital” now being much more commonly used – or abused –  in place of “IT”, digital is still largely equated with, and thought of as, a technology implementation issue. We certainly don’t need any more studies! As a client of mine once said, the less will we have to solve a problem, the more we study it. We need leaders to finally wake up and understand that this is not a technology implementation problem, but a problem around understanding, accepting accountability for, and managing the business change required to create and sustain business value from leveraging digital. We need these leaders to move beyond eternal studies to action. I discussed this in an earlier post, “Digital Leadership – Much More Than IT Leadership”. What follows builds on parts of that post.

In this new digital era, technology itself, how technology is delivered, how it is used, and by whom are changing at an ever-increasing rate. This is blurring the roles and responsibilities of IT and other business functions, and giving rise to a fundamental rethinking of how IT, and its delivery and use is governed and managed, and the capabilities that are required to ensure and assure that the use of technology contributes to creating and sustaining business value. The role of the CIO is being questioned ad nauseam, particularly as it relates to the CMO, and a new position, the CDO, is appearing. And, of course, let’s not forget the CTO. However, the answer is not as simple as renaming the CIO position, getting a new CIO, or appointing a few new CXOs (or now, due to alphabetic limitations, CXXOs).

I have, over many decades, used the simple formula below to describe reason for the current dismal state of affairs:

OO + NT = COO

The formula represents that simply applying new technology (NT) to an old organization (OO) results in a Complex Old Organization (COO). Gavin Slater, the new head of the Australian Government’s Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), used a variation of this formula in a recent address to the Australian Information Industry Association, in which he replaced COO with EOO – expensive old organization.

Digitization cuts across organizational silos, and across all levels of organizations. Realizing value from digital requires more than putting lipstick on the old industrial age pig, with its hierarchical, command and control approach to governance, leadership and management. It requires continually rethinking, reimagining and reinventing every aspect of our organizations. Digital transformation, or more accurately the on-going and ever-evolving digital journey towards a digital ecosystem will require digital literacy and collaboration across and beyond the C-suite to ensure that their organization has, as EY’s David Nichols said in a May 2014 CIO Insight interview, “an integrated and holistic plan to really leverage digital”. This includes questioning their very purpose, how they are organized, the very nature of the work they do, who does it, and how it’s done. It requires challenging established cultures and long-held beliefs. The digital economy both enables and requires a different view of leadership. As Sally Helgesen said in a May, 2014 article, “Leadership’ isn’t Just for Leaders anymore”, leadership no longer, or should no longer equate with positional power and has, or should become a behaviour that is broadly distributed, recognize and rewarded.

Organizations must tap into the collective knowledge of all their people…~70% of whom feel no engagement with their organizations today. As Julian Stodd said in a June, 2017 blog, “The Age of Engagement”:

“The mechanisms and mindset of engagement in many organisations lags far behind the lived reality of the Social Age: Organisations exist in a realm of expertise, domain specific input, hierarchical power, at a time when communities are rising, co-creation is maturing, and dynamism is key. The solution will not be adaptation within an existing mindset, but rather a paradigm shift to a new space: the Age of Engagement.”

Peter Staal extends this thinking in an August, 2017 article, “Organizations of the future operate as communities”, in which he says:

“Meeting the demands of the digital age will require a new way of working. Take for instance the decision-making process. Organizations no longer have the time traditionally taken up by this process through a decision tree. The future belongs to organizations which are made up of multiple autonomously operating communities forming part of the larger whole (so-called pods).”

This is not a new concept. It was original posited in the early 20th century by Oswald von Neil-Breuning with his law of subsidiarity – an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. This means locating accountability and decision-making at the most appropriate level, while supporting decisions with broader and more knowledgeable input.

We could have adopted such a concept long before now, indeed, some organizations have done so. For organizations to survive and thrive in the digital economy, this is no longer an option! We certainly now have the technology available today to support such a concept. However, I’m not sure we will see this widely accepted  any time soon – likely not in my lifetime. As Steve Vamos said in a 2012 Australian Review article:

“The challenge ahead is to unwind more than a century of industrial-age mindsets at work which are controlling, mistake-averse and “know it all” and evolve them into mindsets that are enabling, learning and willing to try new things and fail.”

Laurence J. Peter, author of The Peter Principle, echoed those sentiments when he said, “Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.” The reasons for this are well laid out by Ted Bauer in an August, 2017 article, “Bureaucratic management ain’t going anywhere”, as summarized in the figure below.

As an eternal optimist, I hope that he’s wrong, but as a realist, having pushed similar ideas for many decades, I think it will take some time before we see the extinction of the organizational dinosaurs. This will certainly be the case if we stand on the sidelines and wait for it to happen. As a former colleague, Don Tapscott,  has said for decades “Leadership can come from anywhere”. We must all take a leadership role in making it happen.

The Digital Economy and the IT Value Standoff

The emerging  digital economy, and the promise and challenges that it brings, including the need to shift focus beyond reducing cost to creating value, are adding fuel to the seemingly never-ending discussion about the role of the IT function, and the CIO.  There is questioning of the very need for and/or name of the position, and the function they lead. Discussions around the need for a CDO, the so-called battle between the CMO and the CIO for the “IT budget”, and other similar topics proliferate ad nauseam. Unfortunately, most, although not all of these discussions appear to be about the technology itself, along with associated budgets power and egos, within a traditional siloed organizational context. This akin to shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic, or putting lipstick on a pig – it’s way past time for that!  As technology becomes embedded in and across everything we do, and we are increasingly becoming embedded in everything technology does, we have to acknowledge that the way we have managed technology in the past will be a huge impediment to delivering on the promise of the Digital Economy. Indeed, it has proven woefully inadequate to deliver on the promise of technology for decades.

Recent illustrations of this include failed, or significantly challenged healthcare projects in the U.S., Australia, and the U.K.as well as disastrous payroll implementations in Queensland, New Zealand and California (you would really think that we should be able to get payroll right). And this situation is certainly not unique to the public sector, although these tend to be more visible. In the private sector, a large number of organizations continue to experience similar problems, particularly around large, complicated ERP, CRM and Supply Chain systems.

All too often, these situations are described as “IT project” failures. In most cases, while there may have been some technology issues, this is rubbish. As I and others have said many times before, the ubiquitous use of the term “IT project” is a symptom of the root cause of the problem. Labelling and managing investments in IT-enabled business change, as IT projects, and abdicating accountability to the CIO is a root cause of the failure of so many to generate the expected payoff. Business value does not come from technology alone – in fact, technology in and of itself is simply a cost. Business value comes from the business change that technology increasingly shapes and enables. Change of which technology is only one part – and increasingly often only a small part. Technology only contributes to business value when complementary changes are made to the business – including increasingly complex changes to the organizational culture, the business model, and the the operating model, as well as to  relationships with customers and suppliers, business processes and work practices, staff skills and competencies, reward systems, organizational structures, physical facilities etc.

From my many previous rants about our failure to unlock the real value of IT-enabled change, regular visitors to this blog will know that I am particularly hard on non-IT business leaders, starting with Boards and CEOs, for not stepping up to the plate. When it comes to IT, the rest of the business, from the executive leadership down, has expected the IT function to deliver what they ask for, assuming little or no responsibility themselves, until it came time to assign blame when the technology didn’t do what they had hoped for. The business change that IT both shapes and enables must be owned by business leaders, and they must accept accountability, and be held accountable for creating and sustaining business value from that change. This cannot be abdicated to the IT function.

However, having spent quite a lot of time over the last few months speaking with CIOs and other IT managers, it has been brought home to me that some, possibly many of them are just as much at fault. There appear to be a number of different scenarios, including CIOs who:

  1. “Get it” and are already seen as a valued member of the executive team, providing leadership in the emerging digital economy;
  2. “Get it”, but have been unable, and, in some cases,  given up trying to get the rest of the executive team to step up to the plate;
  3.  Sort of “get it”, but don’t know how to have the conversation with the executive team;
  4. May “get it”, but are quite happy to remain  passive “order-takers”; or
  5. Don’t “get it”, still believing that IT is the answer to the world’s problems, and don’t want to “give up control”.

The result, in all too many cases, is a stand-off where the business doesn’t want to take ownership, and the IT function doesn’t know how, or doesn’t want to give up control. As Jonathan Feldman said in a recent InformationWeek post, “..enterprise IT, like government IT, believes in the big lie of total control. The thought process goes: If something lives in our datacenter and it’s supplied by our current suppliers, all will be well…my observation is that the datacenter unions at enterprises want “the cloud” to look exactly like what they have today, factored for infrastructure staff’s convenience, not the rest of the supply chain’s.” Until this standoff is resolved, the “train wrecks” will continue, and we will continue to fail to come anywhere near realizing the full economic, social and individual value that can be delivered from IT-enabled change.

At the root of all this is what I described in an earlier post as The real alignment challenge – a serious mis-alignment between enterprises whose leaders have an ecosystem mindset, and adopt mechanistic solutions to change what are becoming increasingly complex organisms. But it’s also more than this – in a recent strategy+business recent post, Susan Cramm talked about “the inability of large organizations to reshape their values, distribution of power, skills, processes, and jobs”. The sad fact is that, as organizations get bigger, an increasing amount of attention is spent looking inward, playing the “organizational game”, with inadequate attention paid to the organizations raison d’être, their customers, or their employees. As Tom Waterman said, “eventually, time, size and success results in something that doesn’t quite work.” Increasingly today, it results in something that is, or will soon be quite broken.

Most of the focus of the conversation about the digital economy today is on improving the customer experience, as indeed it should be – although we have been saying the same for decades with, at best, mixed success. We will come nowhere close to  achieving that success unless we put equal focus on our people, and rethinking how we govern, manage and organize for the digital economy such that we maximize the return on our information and our people.

This will require that leaders truly lead – moving beyond tactical leadership, aka managing, to strategic and transformational leadership. That we move from a cult of individual leadership – “the leader”, to a culture of pervasive leadership – enabling and truly empowering leadership throughout the organization- putting meaning to that much-abused term “empowerment”. That we break the competitive, hierarchical, siloed view and move to a more collaborative, organic  enterprise-wide view. The technology exists to support this today – what is lacking is the leadership mindset, will and capability make the change. As Ron Ashkenas said in a 2013 HBR blog – “The content of change management is reasonably correct, but the managerial capacity to implement it has been woefully underdeveloped”.

I am not saying that this will be easy easy to do – it isn’t, very little involving organization, people and power is. And somehow, throwing in technology seems to elevate complexity to a new dimension. And we certainly don’t make it any easier with the ever-growing proliferation of books, frameworks, methods, techniques and tools around the topic. Many of which have evolved out of the IT world, and are, as a result, while intellectually correct, often over-engineered and bewilderingly complex to executives and business managers who need to “get this”.

So, let’s get back to the basics – governance is about what decisions need to be made, who gets to make them, how they are made and the supporting management processes, structures, information and tools to ensure that it is effectively implemented, complied with, and is achieving the desired levels of performance. It’s not about process for process sake, analysis paralysis, endless meetings, or stifling bureaucracy – it’s about making better decisions by finding the right balance between intellectual rigour and individual judgement. In a previous post, Back to the Basics – the Four “Ares” I introduced the four questions that should be the foundation for that decision-making:

  1. Are we doing the right things?
  2. Are we doing them the right way?
  3. Are we getting them done well?
  4. Are we getting the benefits?

A common reaction to the four “ares” is that they are common sense. Indeed they are, but, unfortunately, they are far from common practice! if business leadership to move beyond words in addressing the challenge of creating and sustaining value from investments in enterprise computing, social media, mobility, big data and analytics, the cloud etc. emphasis must be placed on action—on engagement and involvement at every level of the enterprise,  with clearly defined structure, roles and accountabilities for all stakeholders related to creating and sustaining value. The four “ares” are a good place to start!

 

2012 – A Perfect Storm in IT!

One consequence of a 3 month hiatus, forced initially by surgery and concluded more voluntarily with much needed relaxation in Hawaii, is that I have had time to actually read and digest much of the material that, all too often, I only have time to quickly scan – and then rarely get back to. Amongst all this material was a considerable amount of prognostication on 2012 trends. In many ways, little of this was new, but collectively, it does amount to a “perfect storm” that challenges the way we as individuals, societies, and enterprises – small and large, public and private, look at, use and manage technology, including both the demand and supply side and, probably most importantly, where they intersect. In this post, I will briefly discuss the elements of this “perfect storm”, add the one element that I find to be conspicuously missing from the dialogue, and discuss the implications of both.

  1. The “cloud” – the dream of the “information utility” has been around for decades, and now, with the “cloud”, while there are still significant governance, security and privacy issues to work through (some real, some “noise”),  this is now closer to being a reality.
  2. The data explosion, “big data” – I read recently that 90% of the data in the world today was created in the last 2 years – this exponential growth of data is creating both enormous challenges, and great opportunities – on the technology side, developments include the rise of Hadoop, and recent announcements of Dynamo DB from Amazon, and Big Data Appliance from  Oracle, as well as the growing need for new data visualization and “data scientist” skills.
  3. Analytics, particularly real-time analytics – some of the technologies mentioned above, and indeed those below, are fundamentally changing the analytics landscape. Huge amounts of data – structured or unstructured, can now be analyzed quickly, and data can increasingly be captured and analyzed in real time. The challenge here is to resist the temptation  to succumb to analysis paralysis – to know what information is both relevant and  important, what questions to ask, and to think ahead to what actions might need be taken as a result of based on the answers to these questions.
  4. Mobility – services can now be accessed, data captured, information found, and transactions performed from almost anywhere – other work locations, coffee shops, restaurants and bars, at home, in other countries, in taxis, trains or buses, on airplanes or even on a cruise ship – limitations of distance and time have been virtually eliminated. The challenge here, apart from the security and privacy issues that are common to most of these points,  is to be able to find the “off” button in an increasingly, always on, 24/7 world. On an individual basis we need to maintain a work-life balance, and from a business perspective, “burn out” seriously erodes the effectiveness and value of  their most critical resource – people.
  5. Consumerization, including BYOD and “app”s – while it could be argued that these 3 could each merit their own category, I have chosen to “lump” them together as, collectively, they represent a further significant shift from the traditional “technology push” world, with the IT function in a control mode as the gatekeeper, to the “user tool pull” world with IT, potentially – if they get it right, in a facilitation role as a service broker.
  6. Social Media – this is, to some extent, simply one “flavour” of the previous 2 elements, but a very significant one, with potentially huge implications. While much of the attention to date has been on controlling social media, enterprises are increasingly using it as a communication channel, and beyond that, to tap into it to find out what their customers, and employees are thinking. Here, one challenge/opportunity that I see how we can use social media to improve performance  by tapping into the collective knowledge within organizations – “crowd sourcing” input into decision-making and, as a result, making better-informed decisions, and having employees feel more connected with, and empowered by their organizations.

In all the discussion around the elements of this “perfect storm”, much if not most of the focus had been on the IT function needing to respond more quickly to deliver and/or support capabilities in these areas. There has been much less discussion of how the use of these technologies will be used to lead to positive outcomes – creating and/or sustaining  individual, societal and enterprise value – or of the changes that will be needed in the behaviour of individuals, societies and enterprises if that value is to be realized. If we as individuals and societies are not to become “the tools of our tools”, and enterprises are not to continue the increasingly expensive and value-destructive litany of IT failures, we need to shift our focus from the technology to how we manage and use the capabilities that the technologies provide to increase the value of our lives, our societies and our enterprises.

I don’t make these comments as a later day “luddite”,  rather my focus on value is driven by many decades of frustration at our being nowhere near to realizing the individual, societal and business value that intelligent and appropriate use of technology can create. We will not close that gap until we – as individuals, or leaders in society or business, take “ownership” of how we  use technology, based on the outcomes that are important to us, and the value that we seek to create and sustain! In the enterprise world, this has fundamental implications for the roles and accountabilities of business executives and line of business managers, and for the role of the IT function, as discussed in 2 earlier posts, The Future of IT, and Value from IT – There is a Better Way!

In closing, in the context of individual and societal value, 2 areas that I have long had an interest in, and that I will be watching closely this year are healthcare and education. While we shouldn’t expect seismic shifts in either to happen quickly – it’s just not the nature of the beasts, the ground is starting to move. In healthcare, much of this is driven by the funding crunch, with increase focus on eHealth, based largely on “meaningful use” of EHRs, as well as an increasing number of apps such as Phillips Vital Signs Camera for the iPad. In education, with some exceptions, it is still somewhat more of a grass roots movement, although Apple’s recent iBooks 2 and iTunesU announcements, and organizations such as Curriki may well be  changing this. What I believe we will see here, over time, is an evolution beyond eHealth and eLearning to iHealth, and iLearning, with individuals taking increasing “ownership” of their own health and education.

 

 

Getting Healthcare Right

I have just returned from a trip to Australia where I gave a keynote speech at the HIC 2010 Conference in Melbourne. I also had a number of other meetings and workshops while in Australia. most around the topic of healthcare and, more specifically, eHealth.

Those of you who read this blog will know that my primary passion is around value – specifically enterprises realizing value from IT-enabled change. What you may not know is that there are two areas where I have worked in the past, and continue to work, where I believe IT-enabled change has enormous potential to deliver real value, including social value – but they have as yet come nowhere near to doing so. These are healthcare and education.

Staying with healthcare, and resisting the temptation to further lambaste the UK NHS’s National Program for IT in Health (NPfIT), my experience, and a review of case studies from a number of countries, reveals two disturbing common features among them. These are:

  1. Much is said about the biggest challenge in realizing benefits/value from major IT-enabled change programs in Healthcare (often lumped under the eHealth umbrella)  being management of change – process and behavioural change – yet little or no guidance is provided on how to manage that change, or even what the major elements of change are; and
  2. Benefits are usually treated as an afterthought, often not well defined let alone evaluated until years into the program.

Basically, the approach appears to be: let’s get the technology implemented first, then we’ll find out what changes are required to “meaningfully use” the technology, then we’ll worry about the benefits. As long as we continue with this technology first approach, we will continue to fall dismally short of realizing the potential benefits of such change – the waste of money is a scandal – the opportunity cost of not delivering on the value promise is even worse. We must move from starting with the technology to “starting with the end in mind”.

Over the last few months, I have been involved in working on a number of case studies of enterprises who have made significant progress in implementing value management practices and developing a “value culture”. In preparing my speech to the HIC conference, I drew on the factors that I found to be common in the success of these enterprises – factors that I believe should be seriously considered in the healthcare context. They include:

  • Shifting the focus beyond technology, activities and cost to focus on change – process and behavioural change, outcomes and value
  • Strong and committed business leadership – change programs must be owned by the business and the business must be held accountable for the benefits of those programs
  • Appropriate business engagement and sponsorship/ownership – change cannot be done to people – it must be done with them
    • Cascading sponsorship – there must be leadership at all levels in the enterprise – this should include “formal” leadership, those appointed to lead, and “informal” leadership, those selected/looked to by their peers as leaders
    • “Front-line”  input and feedback – these are the people who usually know what needs to be done, their voice is all too often not heard
  • Clearly defined governance structure, role and responsibilities
  • Don’t underestimate the emotional and political issues around “behavioural change”
  • Be prepared to change course – both the journey and the destination
  • A strong front-end planning process with inclusive and challenging stakeholder engagement
    • Get “the right people in the room having the right discussion”
    • Use Benefits mapping workshops
      • Build clarity and shared understanding of desired outcomes
        • Recognize and balance/optimize different views of value
      • Surface “assumptions masquerading as facts”
      • Surface, understand and manage complexity – understand the full scope of effort including changes to the business model, business processes, roles and responsibilities, skills and competencies, reward systems, technology. organization structure, facilities and management of change
      • Don’t treat  as a one-time event – revisit regularly through an ongoing process
    • Avoid the “big bang” approach – break work into “do-able” chunks that deliver measurable value
  • Define, develop and maintain standard and complete business cases
    • Clearly defined outcomes
    • Full scope of effort
    • Clearly defined – and accepted – accountabilities (for outcomes – not activities)
    • Relevant metrics, both “lead” and “lag”  – “less is more” – measure what’s important and manage what you measure
  • An aligned and results-based reward system
  • A clear and transparent portfolio management process to select and optimize investments in IT-enabled change
  • Manage the journey
    • Use the updated business case as a management tool
    • A strong gating process for progressive commitment of resources
      • When things are not going to plan, understand why and be prepared to change course, change the destination or cancel the program
  • Manage and sustain the change
    • On-going inclusive two-way communication
    • Support/sustain with one-on-one coaching/mentoring
    • Celebrate and build on success
    • Learn and share

All investments in IT-enabled change are important, but few have such impact on all of us as  those in healthcare (and, I would add, education). We cannot continue to muddle through with technology-centric approaches that are designed to fail. We must learn from past failures. There is a better way. Starting with the end in mind, with strong ownership and leadership, inclusive engagement, and pro-active management of change – managing the destination and the journey – we can do better. We must do better. We deserve no less!