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Commentary: Getting tech in sync

Don't perpetuate hit-or-miss efforts, Forrester says. To gain the most from IT investments, companies need to synchronize people, processes and technology.

Commentary: Getting tech in sync
By Forrester Research
Special to CNET News.com
February 12, 2003, 4:00AM PT

By Bruce D. Temkin, Principal Analyst

When it comes to business applications, companies fixate on the software but lament about underperforming projects. To gain the most from these investments, companies should adopt "synchronized deployment"--blending people, processes and technology into the mix.

Over the past 30 years, technology has become a critical component of any corporate arsenal--pushing IT from 15 percent of U.S. business capital spending in 1970 to 45 percent in 2001. Despite this meteoric rise in investments, companies still complain about the return on investment from IT--pointing to costly miscues with applications like enterprise resource management, customer resource management or supply channel management. The problem: Companies view technology as the solution and lose sight of the other changes required to impact business results. Operating with this perspective of naked technology, applications have to endure these tribulations:

• Turf battles. Who's responsible for implementing a new enterprise application--business units or IT? This question spurs dissention within many companies. More than half of large companies say that they experience some internal battles for ownership of e-business projects.

• High risks. Only 29 percent of companies say that their IT projects come in on time and on budget. With this lackluster performance, executives are forced to view technology projects as high-risk investments--and aggressively cut funding when business results suffer.

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Although budgets are tight, companies still
need to buy some technologies--especially
those that can save money.

• User unfriendliness. IT-centric projects often spend more time comparing features and functions than examining the specific needs of actual users. That's why software vendors get away with delivering increasingly sophisticated but difficult-to-use applications. Forrester recently found serious usability flaws across 11 enterprise applications. As a result, users frequently misuse, or just refuse to use, the applications.

A balancing act
Rather than perpetuating hit-or-miss application efforts, Forrester advises companies to adopt synchronized deployment, defined as finding the balance among people, process and technology linkages to achieve business objectives.

While the people-process-technology mantra isn't new, most companies don't successfully blend these critical components into their application efforts. Why not? Because they typically focus on each element in isolation. Synchronized deployment, on the other hand, requires companies to concentrate on dependencies between these key items--paving the way for three specific cross-organizational disciplines:

• Process engineering: The people-process link. When a company wants to revamp its approach to opportunity management, just installing a sales force automation application like Siebel won't get the job done. A company must explicitly design how the new process will operate--using this blueprint to identify the specific changes required to each salesperson's role, responsibilities and ongoing performance metrics. But companies can't expect to get this right on the first shot. As with new technology releases, major process change requires continuous fine-tuning.

• Digitization: The process-technology link. When a manufacturer takes an order for a product that goes out of stock, should the SAP order management system reallocate inventory from another customer or notify a service representative to contact the customer? Should this likely scenario be addressed in real time--or is once a day good enough? The answers to these process questions must drive application configuration and integration efforts.

• User engagement: The people-technology link. Companies obsess about application "go live" dates as if these milestones represent the finish line. But an on-time self-service PeopleSoft human resources application doesn't provide any value if employees don't use the system. That's why companies must turn their attention to eliminating obstacles to user adoption. How? By making applications easy to use and investing in post-implementation training, communications and support.

Getting under way
Results from business application efforts will always be limited by the weakest link in the synchronized-deployment triangle. To help get the most out of their application projects, users should do the following:

• Assess their readiness. Before going ahead with any project, companies should evaluate their capabilities in each of the three synchronized-deployment disciplines. After identifying the shortcomings, companies can concentrate on improving their weakest links.

• Select complementary consultants. When selecting a consulting partner, companies should look for vendors that can beef up their weakest area. If General Motors decides that user engagement is its biggest problem, then the car company should select a systems integrator that can point to a particularly innovative approach for bringing users onboard.

• Consider the project's holistic cost. While companies can gauge costs like software license and maintenance fees, they lack the same level of visibility into nontechnology costs--which can often dwarf the technology costs. With synchronized deployment, companies should possess a more accurate view into the total investment required for any project--and limit technology spending to projects that have the required people and process investments lined up.

© 2003, Forrester Research, Inc. All rights reserved. Information is based on best available resources. Opinions reflect judgment at the time and are subject to change.