How to successfully make conduct a large IT transformation: Insights
From a project management point of view a big IT transformation project contains the three important steps: (1) Assessment of the current processes and data flows, (2) Description of the (target-) IT architecture and (3) Definition and documentation of the requirements. In this blog we would like to provide you with some insights, as each of these steps may contain some tripping hazards.
Facing some severe problems with your IT?
Looking at your current IT environment some of you may have reached a point, where you actually never wanted to be. Indicators therefore might be:
- Each change request generates disproportional efforts and costs
- You have uncertainties with your data availability and timeliness
- You face a lot of data redundancy and data flows are not aligned
If this is the case, then probably the time has come to change and re-organize your IT environment. How can this be done and what are useful insights? My airline consultant colleagues Björn Jahncke and Dr. Patrick Hamilton and I would like to share some of our experiences with complex IT transformation projects within the following blog:
IT environments at the end of their lifecycles – an explanation approach
You might ask: How can it happen, that companies run in the above described difficulties? Our explanation approach: Usually these difficulties are a result of operating the IT in a “hand-knitted” way. Many of these companies handle complex operational or commercial processes (e.g. complex accounting processes due to diverse contracts). Over many years they have faced realms of additionally “knitted” features and data queues. Sometimes several of their applications are also separated and put into the cloud – unlike the rest of the system. What is the reason behind that? Many times the current IT environment isn’t rather the result of a systematic IT strategy, but of “fulfilling requirements that have to be implemented right here and now” and “isolated silo-solutions”.
One example for the result of such an “exploding” IT environment we experienced at a German service provider. The company wasn´t capable to execute a simple, but very important business process: Their billing. They were not able to timely send out their bills to their clients due to major gaps within their data aggregation - thus lacking a lot of money owed to them. These and many other problems with their IT made them look for an external consulting partner to transform their IT.
Due to the high complexity of IT transformation projects, we would like to give you some useful insights in the following section.
Insight 1: Do the processes before IT
If you want to set-up your new IT environment, don’t make step 2 before step 1: It is not recommendable to start with the IT itself. The prerequisite of all activities is to identify and define all current processes. This is in particular necessary, when talking about operational (airline) processes. Minimal changes might have an immediate negative effect on the whole operations or IT security– and nobody wants the worst case: a full outage.
So make sure to exactly know your processes and their interdependencies before starting to change anything. This absolutely is the prerequisite for any change in processes and methods. The implementation of new applications, databases and data structures can´t be successful, if both process owner and process participants don´t know what their data does and what shall happen with their data in the future.
We made very good experience when talking with every process area involved and defining the interconnections together with other business areas. One result of such assessments was for instance the identification of data detours that can be dissolved in the next step. We also can recommend to visualize data flows for identifying for instance such data detours. The whole company staff gets a better understanding about the necessary IT transformation activities and in consequence shows more engagement and support. So again make sure to exactly know your processes and their interdependencies before starting to change anything
Insight 2: Consider the “human factor”.
This aspect might sound very trivial. But it is not at all: Don´t underestimate the “human factor”. Rumors and fears might be show-blockers for any IT project as they create non-acceptance and maybe even resistance among some involved parties. This is definitively not a good starting point.
We recommend as one of the first actions to involve everybody by explaining what you intend to do and to achieve with your transformation project. This shall include detailed explanations, what kind of data for which purpose is being inserted at which time and how the data subsequently will be processed and utilized. Bottom line: Every involved participant shall be aware of the process chain and each one has to feel responsible for any data flow generated.
In case of existing rumors and fears don’t forget to directly address it as well by emphasizing, that digitalization neither means to cut jobs or fire people nor everything shall be transformed into “fancy apps”.
Again: It is important for the success for an IT transformation project that the objectives and the knowledge around the project reach every person involved. Internal IT project managers often show the tendency to focus on the “important” IT hard-facts, but neglect soft components. A consultancy partner could be of beneficial support here.
Insight 3: Don´t stay “trapped” in your old world
The description of the new IT architecture forms the basis to define the necessary changes. However, when companies approach this next step we sometimes observe the following phenomenon: This important description sometimes takes longer and appears to be more complicated than anticipated. What might be the reason? It sounds almost a little bit trivial: Some companies are somehow “trapped” in their current world and therefore face the difficulty to “think out of the box” when describing their future target-processes (or casually speaking “when describing how they can do things differently”). That´s where external consultants might come in:
- For them it is sometimes more easy to identify the most essential use cases of the company including its data (flows), tasks, and roles, etc. (Example: “Training of a new employee on a job assignment which needs to run through dedicated training plan”. This might be a very complex process, if the position for instance is to be executed under certain safety and license standards and has a complex shift structure).
- They bring in best industry practices into the organization by identifying necessary requirements and standards, such as:
- Interchangeable functional modules
- Compatibility and consistency of data flows and data editions
- Mandatory standard interfaces
- One data set for one data content; no data duplications
- Definition of rights, tasks and roles for each user
- They have a neutral outside perspective and – very important - are not “emotionally attached” to anything. That´s why they won´t follow the “we have always done it like that”-path.
According to our experience one very efficient method to achieve a clear picture of the new IT architecture and to activate the own staff’s creativity about how processes is the following: The consultancy partner prepares a first approach about what one or more business processes shall look like in the future. Surprisingly, such a first draft many times starts something going within the organization. Very often we receive a feedback from the employees, like: “Oh, this is really feasible? If this is really the case, we would rather suggest to make it like this…” In consequence such an external impulse is very often an activator for the own staff to “get out of their trap”.
Insight 4: Spend efforts on a good documentation
The last step for preparing the reorganization of the IT landscape is to write down all the technical requirements, such as data structures and flows, software architecture, server software, connection requirements, client requirements, interfaces descriptions, etc. in a way that the company’s IT service provider can work with it when implementing new applications. We have experienced cases, that enterprises sometimes are not doing this carefully enough and are disappointed if assumed “no-brainer”-requirements” are not met by the providers. But how should exactly these IT providers know, what is required, if it is not written down? Bottom line: Be thorough and precise when describing what you want your new IT environment to look like!
Summary: How to proceed with a complex IT transformation project?
From a project management point of view a big IT transformation project contains the following three steps:
- Assessment of the current processes and data flows
- Description of the (target-) IT architecture and specifications for the applications needed (including the decision about which existing IT software solutions and databases can be integrated or have to be replaced)
- Definition and documentation of the requirements and change requests (“What has to change? What has to be different?”)
At a first glance this sounds very easy. But as you might have learned from our insights above, each of these steps may contain some tripping hazards. A mentoring consulting partner with experience in such complex projects might prevent you from stepping into them.
We hope we could give you some useful insights here and we look forward to hearing your comments, either here or via PM on one of our LinkedIn profiles (see below).
This blog is a joint publication of:
Jörn, Sellhorn-Timm: https://www.linkedin.com/in/j%C3%B6rn-sellhorn-timm-05864550/
Björn Jahncke: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bjoernjahncke/
Dr. Patrick Hamilton: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drpatrickhamilton/
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