Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tail Wagging the Dog

The engagement of technology to solve organizational problems often fails in either ineffective tool selection or poorly-planned tool implementation (or both). In either case, the disenfranchised stakeholder will see the imposition of the technology as the tail wagging the dog. Invariably, bringing a new tool to bear on a problem means change, and that will require appropriate change management approaches.

Tool Selection
Selecting the right technology tool is easiest if you have defined the problem well. Not only does this basic step make the choice of tool more obvious, it can also help identify the stakeholders and affected processes and systems in the scope of its adoption. Too often, the tool is selected before stakeholder analysis is conducted, resulting in affected stakeholders suddenly forced to work around a solution to accomplish tasks they have been heretofore successfully completing. The result is sometimes disastrous on the department or sub-system affected: at the least it is distracting and inconvenient, and may negatively impact departmental performance.

Best-of-breed tools are very specific to a problem while integrated approaches may simultaneously address a number of organizational needs. Selecting a best-of-breed solution can be valuable in terms of focused effectiveness while limiting impact on near systems. But if the investment is great, then the danger is the tendency to apply the solution inappropriately against other needs (if all you have is a hammer, then all problems look like a nail). On the other hand, integrated solutions can optimize overall reach, but may result in a compromise that solves only a percentage of each problem (unless you have lots of budget for difficult and expensive customization).

Tool Implementation
In an earlier post I mentioned the butterfly effect that may result from integrating and adding solutions to existing systems - an effect that occurs as best-of-breed solutions are joined to established systems - often resulting in unseen negative impacts down the line. The addition of a workflow application, for example, may have an unforeseen effect on existing projects that must bridge the transition period; or the move to a CMS from a regular communications/publication process may require unplanned new skills (technical, legal, etc.) for content approvers.

Overlooking these needs not only creates short-term frustration in operations; it also creates distrust of those who are planning and selecting solutions. The solution may be the right one, but when deploying a technology solution, ensure that there is plenty of time to accommodate the changes needed by impacted processes and ensure that all stakeholders are very clear about the impact so that they can be part of the implementation process.

Change Management
Change is the only constant in modern organizations, and managing that change is a critical role of the CIO and Operational Managers. Successful change management requires effective time management and communication strategies, superior collaborative planning and implementation, strategic development of process champions, and a focus on scope and risk mitigation. Computer-based simulation and modellling as well as strategic pilots can minimize risk and organizational shock. Developing a fall-back strategy or contingency plan is also a valuable practice in technology implementation.

Wagging the technology tail in the modern organization really comes down to ensuring you apply technology to the business need, not simply adapting your business processes to the technology. That's not to say that examining business process is a bad thing, but if your technology is compromising your business mission - as a colleague of mine likes to say - "Man, that dog just don't hunt"!

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