People and processesChange ManagementWhy IT purchases should never be the driver of business change

Why IT purchases should never be the driver of business change

Purchasing technology in the public sector can easily fail if it is without business change management or the buy-in and involvement of the organisation

Technology can do great things. It can land us on the moon, connect us to relatives in far-flung places, and let us access the office from anywhere in the world (you can decide for yourself whether this last example is a good one or not). Technology can also transform the very heart of a business to make it more efficient, agile and profitable.

Amazon’s unrelenting focus on technology investment, for example, has enabled it to become the world leader in multiple, seemingly entirely unconnected markets, from streaming media to enterprise cloud computing and even voice assistants. The Amazon of today is almost unrecognisable from the fledgling online bookshop it once was in the early noughties, thanks, largely, to its technological investment.

However, in contrast to Amazon, where every technology choice has been driven by a clear business decision, many organisations do not operate this way. A technology decision must come from a business need first and foremost. For example, the need to automate processes and save time and money, or to make processes simpler and less liable to delay or error, or, as in Amazon’s case, to capitalise on a growing new market.

You wouldn’t expect to find a piece of technology and then say, what can we use this for? But this happens far too often.

As a result of this backwards purchasing approach, technology is then introduced without a wholesale change to the organisation, and more importantly, without employee buy-in (because they weren’t involved in the purchasing decision). In this scenario, the decision to implement business change is only made at the point of buying the technology, not before.

You can imagine the scenario – a vendor comes in and pitches their exciting new solution. The proposed benefits are impressive. So a management decision is quickly made to purchase the solution and roll it out across the business as soon as possible. But this is the wrong way around! In this situation, the decision for making business change was driven by the availability of new technology. Availability was considered instead of the business identifying a need for change and choosing a technology solution to deliver that change.

Digital transformation is greater than mere digitisation.

Don’t put the kart before the horse

While technology is one of the great enablers of business change, it cannot deliver meaningful, sustainable change on its own. Business change should never come as a result of purchasing technology – that is clearly putting the kart before the horse.

The same caution must be observed when it comes to how technology is chosen to deliver change. Technology is chosen (quite rightly) by the IT department who have the expertise to ensure that the business has the right equipment (hardware, infrastructure), software and applications to meet the requirements of the end users.

But they can only make the right IT decisions if they know what those user requirements are. Without engaging with the needs of the business, IT-led purchase decisions will be based solely on technical considerations rather than what works for people or the business itself.

At other times technology might be purchased to use up the budget. This is especially true in the public sector. The public sector has always had a use it or lose it element to the annual budget round. This is well known by suppliers and planned into the quarterly figures of any sensible salesperson. We all know when the rash money gets spent and this will almost always be technology for technology’s sake.

If a technology change is introduced without a wholesale change to the affected organisation and without the buy-in and involvement (i.e. they wanted it in the first place) of that organisation, then it can easily fail.

The usual situation would be where a decision is taken to purchase a new technology solution without investigation into exactly what it is replacing and who the users are, what they are doing with it and how they are using it; then just dumping the change on those users and expecting them to embrace it.

This leads to situations where users are not trained to use the system. Some part of the new system fails because we didn’t know the old system did that as well. People will already be against the new product before it even arrives.

If people are not engaged in the change, it will most likely fail. It will fail if they are not the ones driving it. We have seen this time and again. If your people don’t know what the change is for and what the benefits are for them, they will quickly revert to what is easy and do what they have always done.

Very often the business doesn’t even know what it already has and which systems it touches. That’s why change needs to be driven by the business, not the IT section. Procurement cannot stand alone here either. They often dictate what IT can buy through the use of catalogues and contracts. Some of which may end up being outdated before they are signed due to the speed of change in the industry.

Ultimately, change requires many aspects of working life to be considered, not just the technology. The culture and how you communicate with your people to inform about and engage them in the change must be considered. Additionally, considering the cost of the change is a must. Likewise, the cost of doing nothing should also be evaluated. The financial risk of running Windows XP in 2019 is far greater than upgrading to Windows 10 for example.

Successful transformation is a continuous process.

Change is three dimensional

Spending money on whizzy software and applications that simply will never be used is money down the drain. Technology is purchased just because it sounds good. If a proper change management programme isn’t used to determine and implement a change, the risk of all of the above will never be assessed. The impact on people, product, customers, information etc. will not be known until the technology lands.

Often the IT department will consider job done once the product is deployed. An IT manager will most likely not have the experience to consider all aspects of a change. That includes meeting the objectives of the change, changes to business processes, systems, job roles and organisational structures alongside the deployment of technology. Mostly because this is not their job!

These broader change management activities require someone who can work across the business. There will be many different points of view and competing pressures to manage. These will be other than just the actual deployment of kit. This includes things like change impact analyses, assessment of change readiness and who the key stakeholders are.

They might have to identify and mitigate risks, identify and manage change resistance and potentially coaching various team members. Someone needs to manage issues outside of the IT department and manage the various stakeholders involved.

Don’t rely on IT to deliver your business change

The skills and expertise of the IT department may not include all the necessary elements to run a change project across a business. They will naturally be interested in the technical elements only. The business elements are even more important and this is where the focus needs to be.

In many government organisations the IT department, along with the procurement department, are left to drive these changes. But this is putting the kart before the horse; while those in the IT department manage the IT, they are not the end-users. Yes, they can specify the user requirements, but where are those requirements coming from?

Unless they conduct a proper discovery to analyse what people actually need (based on strategic goals defined by the business), they will undoubtedly fit whatever is in the marketplace.

CIOs have a critical place in the drive for change in business around technology. But, they cannot be the key sponsor for the change; that must always fall to the business itself driven by the desires and feedback of its staff.

By Romy Hughes, director, Brightman.

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