CIOs Uncensored: Is IT Impossible To Get Right?

Why do so many IT projects fail to live up to expectations?

John Soat, Contributor

December 14, 2007

3 Min Read

Is IT impossible to get right?

The reason I ask is because of a survey by Tata Consultancy Services. The survey found that 43% of the 800 or so IT managers TCS talked with say their business managers, and even board members, accept problems with IT projects as the norm, as a "necessary evil." And those problems, according to the IT managers, include missed deadlines (62%), cost overruns (49%), and higher-than-expected maintenance costs (47%).

TCS's solution: Hire a good IT services provider. And TCS just happens to provide IT services. Be that as it may, the point is this: Why does IT have such a bad reputation when it comes to delivering projects that meet expectations? I wrote a blog post on this subject last week, and the discussion forum lit up:

"After 30 years in the business, I can tell you that most IT projects fail to live up to expectations."

"Manage expectations vs. manage the project? Most CIOs I know are doing, by my estimation, a better job at the latter than at the former."

"The key word in all of this is 'expectations.' How often are these expectations set by somebody outside of IT, or with little knowledge of it? How often are the expectations unreasonable?"

Whose fault is it that IT projects so often disappoint? Take your pick: CIOs. Unreasonable business managers. Ungrateful end users. Perhaps it's even something endemic to IT.

I reached out to other sources. Gary Baney is CEO of Boundless Flight, an IT services firm. He's also the former VP of IT at a large Midwestern bank, and CTO at a component software company. "The reason projects are so difficult to manage in the IT world is the difficulty in accurately and efficiently communicating expectations and deliverables in concrete, objective terms," Baney says.

Next was Dave Bent, senior VP and CIO of United Stationers. "There is no such thing as an IT project--there are business projects that leverage technology to enable them," he says. "Once businesses understand that fact, then they understand that there must be joint business and IT accountability to deliver against expectations."

An equally important question is this: What's at stake? I talked with two gentlemen from Diamond Management & Technology Consultants. Diamond recently completed its "Digital IQ" study, which involved 456 respondents--half IT leaders and half business leaders--and featured questions about the success of IT projects. Their study is kinder than TCS's: 43% of IT executives say 90% of their projects meet initial expectations. Unfortunately, "most of the people I talked with said they don't believe our data; they think it's much worse," says Chris Curran, Diamond's CTO.

John Sviokla, vice chairman of Diamond, says most of the companies he sees are simply "OK or mediocre" when it comes to delivering well-performing IT projects. And that makes the difference between the leaders and the also-rans. "Leaders pull away from the pack," he says. "Leading companies have the ability to deliver IT business value."

Easier said than done. But not impossible.

Share your thoughts at our blog, CIOs Uncensored, or contact me directly at [email protected] or 516-562-5326.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page.

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