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IT Leaders Still Grapple With Permanent Temporary Solutions

It’s time for a new approach to strategic project delivery.

John Appleby

November 28, 2023

4 Min Read
house of cards looking ready to collapse
simo bogdanovic via Alamy Stock

“There’s nothing so permanent as a temporary solution.” Those words of wisdom were emphatically shared with me by an IT leader who was feeling trapped between delivering what the business needed, or rather what they thought they needed, and meeting the renewed pressure on cost.

We’ve all been there. Every business I have worked for and with, has, at some point in its history, faced the challenge of delivering solutions that transform business processes and the customer experience, but faced the pressure of meeting tight deadlines and even tighter budgets.

Invariably this tension leads to projects that deliver some rather than all of the requirements, and in some cases a solution that “will do” until something better can be deployed or afforded.

Why is it that companies that boast a clear vision and employ highly capable people end up with solutions that don’t fit their strategic needs? It seems such a strange question to ask today when I see IT leaders over-index on the time they spend listening to the business’s pain points, yet still find themselves over-promising, under-delivering and fighting for extra funds and/or time to deliver what their internal customers actually want.

It struck me: Despite all the expertise and experience in the industry and advances in technology and automation, business functions are still in the habit of telling their IT teams what they think they need because they need to hit a metric. On the other hand, I’ve seen IT teams design a scope of work according to the wish list, without stepping back and assessing if there’s a strategic and technical match.

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Imbalance and Friction

Looking back at the times I’ve faced this very scenario, there have been a couple of things in play. First, it goes without saying that functional leaders are excellent at what they do. They paint the picture as to how their team will contribute to strategy and galvanize teams accordingly.

Forgive my generalizations, however, I think many would agree that functional heads are not finely tuned in their knowledge of the IT landscape, nor the complexities of the company’s existing architecture.

This creates friction that diminishes the chances of successfully integrating their preferred solution into the stack, and more importantly, prevents leaders from investing in the solution they actually need.

Secondly, the pressure to make the investment work at pace invariably leads to rushed or incomplete briefs, and in turn, uninformed decision-making. In my early career I found myself in the thick of scenarios like this and -- to cut a long story short -- I didn’t win.

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I now look back and see that I was never going to win. Hard lessons to learn, but they taught me that IT can never be the business’ friend if it doesn’t proactively help leaders understand the latest developments in cloud, ERP, CRM, security and so on, as well as its relevance to their business function and goals.

Take artificial intelligence. There is much hype about AI, but which bit of the hype is relevant to your business? In our world, AI can be used to provide health checks before embarking on big projects, just as much as it can be used to automate the daily, repetitive tasks. So, which outcome does the business need to prioritize?

The Role of the MVP

It’s with this nuanced outlook, where there’s clarity on how a specific technology can be applied to a need, that I’ve seen companies taking steps towards transformation without overcommitting.

In some of the best-case studies, companies have taken the approach to develop “minimum viable products” (MVP). It’s a way to deliver enough features to prove a concept and persuade buy-in to an alternative way of adopting technology.

Three-month MVP trials tend to work well. It's a sensible period within which IT can work with functional heads to create an environment that supports collaboration on the best-fit solution, and it comes with reduced risk and cost.

MVP models also help uncover valuable insight that can: a) drive business improvement, and b) identify overlooked benefits, all of which can shape how a long-term solution is developed.

What I like most about the approach is that there’s an acceptance from all parties that if the MVP doesn’t work it can be reviewed, adjusted, or even scrapped with relatively little impact to company fortunes.

Meeting Expectation

The MVP approach is one I try to encourage in our business development, as well as with our customers. If we test things, we can find out what works, and why, and we can see where there’s an opportunity to optimize the design and delivery.

Crucially, it alleviates pressure, as I believe it’s when we are under pressure that solution design is misaligned to expectations. Scope creep, spiraling budgets, and late delivery can be managed and avoided. Better still the resulting solutions will be used and loved because, as my customer said, no business can tolerate a permanent temporary solution.

About the Author(s)

John Appleby

Chief Executive Officer, Avantra

John Appleby leads Avantra as the CEO. Before Avantra John served as the Global Head of DDM/HANA Center of Excellence at SAP and as the Global Head of SAP HANA solutions at Bluefin Solutions, subsequently acquired by Mindtree. John is a recognized thought leader in the SAP market and was part of SAP’s Mentors Group. John holds an MA in computer science from the University of Cambridge.

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