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CMP Information Week
InformationWeek Daily - Wednesday, Dec 12, 2007

Editor's Note

CIO = Chief Incompetence Officer?

Tata Consultancy Services published a press release Tuesday touting the results of a survey it sponsored (conducted by a company called Dynamic Markets) of 800 middle and senior level IT managers in eight countries (France, Germany, India, Japan, Singapore, Sweden, UK, U.S.). The results, according to Tata: "IT project underperformance accepted as the norm."

It's always hard to comment on survey results based on a summary, because you're not seeing or judging the raw data, only the summary's interpretation of that data. For example, here's the first paragraph of Tata's press release:

1 in 3 companies' IT projects fail to perform against expectations, research from Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), (BSE: TCS.BO, NSE: TCS.NS) has revealed. Yet despite these worrying levels of failure to deliver, 43% of organisations say that their business managers and the Board accept problems as the norm. This attitude is especially common in Europe (44%) and AsiaPac (48%).

What are we to make of the first sentence, that "1 in 3 companies' IT projects fail to perform against expectations." In my experience, expectations for a project usually run pretty high, and the end results rarely live up to those expectations. So if 2/3 of surveyed respondents answered yes to the question, "Do your IT projects perform up to expectations?" I'd be tempted to say at least some of those respondents were lying.

Here's another factoid from the survey, not in the press release but on a linked page: " 62% of organizations experienced IT projects that failed to meet their schedules." Once again, my experience with projects and schedules tells me that that number should be higher, perhaps a lot higher.

I'm not trying to cast aspersions on Tata Consultancy's survey; I'm trying to understand the implications of it. One of IT's worst problems is its reputation for incompetence, I certainly agree with that, and if that incompetence isn't being dealt with -- and aggressively -- the CIO in charge should be shown the door. Tata's prescription for that incompetence is this:

As a result of the research, Tata Consultancy Services is urging businesses to re-think their IT services and outsourcing strategies. Organisations need to work with partners that can explain the value of their work at a Board level and provide Key Performance Indicators to show the benefit of the investments made.

My experience tells me that there might be a flaw in this logic, too, along these lines: If incompetence is endemic to an organization, handing off projects to third-parties isn't going to help the problem; it might in the short run, but certainly not in the long run.

But, hey, it's Tata's survey, and they can interpret it however they like.

Feel free to post your thoughts on InformationWeek's CIOs Uncensored blog.

John Soat

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