Interview: Getting over the IT roadblock when selecting business technology

Choosing software and cloud solutions for business is a difficult task and getting it wrong can have serious consequences. We've all heard horror stories about money being wasted on systems that either don't deliver or are left unused.

So, how can organisations make better decisions on systems purchases? We spoke to Venkat Devraj, CEO of technology selection specialist, SelectHub, to find out.

There's a perpetual tug-of-war between business managers and IT departments when it comes to technology selections - who should take the lead?

Your question highlights a key issue for IT in many organisations: are they seen as a helpful, strategic partner or just a roadblock? How many end-users and business unit leaders view IT as a trusted advisor - someone who understands their pain and more importantly, is ready to do something about it in a reasonable time frame?

Engaging with IT often means imposing a drawn-out process comprising service desk tickets, questionnaires and sitting through meetings with IT personnel who rarely share the sense of business urgency.

So you're saying avoid the IT department whenever possible?

For the sake of your technology investments, it's not advisable to bypass your IT department. However, regardless of who's initiating the selection or leading the project, for IT to be brought into the loop early and often, it needs to act as a strategic facilitator rather than a control group.

Rather than being obsessed with arcane concepts such as architectural compatibility and relying on archaic selection tools such as Word docs and Google spreadsheets, they need to evolve the underlying process with a prescriptive workflow which can be driven by end-users in self-service mode. This involves a major rethinking of the way IT typically operates -- if they want to remain relevant and provide real business value to their organisations.

How does IT reinvent itself to become more relevant?

IT needs to be relentless in eliminating administrative overhead and make its presence felt as an agile service broker and a provider of relevant market context to help the business units make the right decision. Some progressive organisations are already going down this path via a disciplined Technology Selection Management (TSM) methodology.

In our experience working with over 2,000 IT selection projects across a variety of industries and company sizes, any notion of cookie-cutter selection approach does not work. In these complex events, the overall process needs to be separated into a sequence of steps such as functional requirements gathering, technical requirements gathering, vendor/product short-listing, and all validation steps - right through to financial due diligence, and contract negotiation. Each step should be viewed discretely and led by project managers from IT or end-user business units, depending on the scope of that step and the net beneficiaries.

Expecting a single group to represent and lead the entire process results in various incorrect assumptions and compromises being made, which ultimately jeopardise the success of that investment.

Has the rise of the cloud changed the procurement landscape, allowing line managers to bypass IT for example?

Yes, and we are seeing it grow at a non-linear pace. In 2013, when we first launched, we saw over 90 per cent of our users were IT personnel. Now that percentage has come down to 50 per cent, with over 40 per cent of projects completely bypassing IT - IT is not even a passive stakeholder in the process!

How can the process ensure that security and compliance requirements are met?

When offering technology selection as a service within their organisation, IT should seed the TSM workflow with their security, compliance and architectural requirements upfront so it doesn't become an afterthought.

Other control groups such as finance and procurement can do the same thing by incorporating vendor due diligence and contractual requirements based on specific parameters such as scope of purchase, departments being impacted and size of budget.

With all these pre-set requirements, aren't we back to IT being a roadblock?

Quite the opposite. By building those requirements right into the process backbone, end-users are not held hostage to IT and finance personnel not being available to vet the process thus eliminating latency and re-work. Any selection event initiated by end-users would seamlessly encompass relevant functional and technical criteria that are uniformly applicable to a project of that kind.

Do senior managers need to adjust their mindset to take account of hybrid and cloud environments?

End users primarily care about functionality and time to value. Cloud-based deployments shrink implementation time lines and operational costs significantly. So there is a great deal of migration happening to the cloud. Gartner has predicted that on-premise software will decline from 34 per cent last year to 18 per cent by 2017.

Given that the cloud has become the first choice for deploying applications, it will continue to disrupt the traditional stodgy technology selection processes that IT and procurement managers have relied on, creating a greater urgency to evolve towards an agile TSM practice.

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