Last week when I wrote about orphaned projects, applications and solutions that find no takers despite them having started life as perceived business critical process or need, many of the readers wrote back with their stories of orphanages within their companies. The problem has been around for a long time since the time IT departments started developing software for ever changing stated and unstated business needs. The idea of alignment between Business and IT thereby took shape and still remains the subject of discussion.
Rarely did the CIO bring this to the discussion table with customers or at Management meetings as the failure was largely attributed to insufficient business engagement and understanding; compounded by the fact that there were some broken systems and challenges that kept the IT departments busy just to run business as usual. So everyone worked in expectation of creating a better tomorrow driven by new and disruptive technology trends and new solutions that promised to solve the issues of the past and future.
The protagonist CIO in the earlier post (The IT Orphanage) had a big white elephant sitting on his lap and the enterprise had written off the project as a bad experience. More than a dozen man years of effort seemed a waste and the solution had no takers. The team was disheartened, the business indifferent, and the vendors wondering what next. The CEO was not interested in funding the project further and wanted to cut losses and move on. The situation seemed hopeless.
Undeterred, the CIO called the team together and captured the sequence of events from the initiation of the project. Step by step they analysed the methodology, the plan, the data elements, the solution pieces and the overall architecture, and finally the business need and benefit. Everything appeared to fit in; they could not find anything wrong with the technology. They went through the business objections and the critique of the results one by one and that is when they discovered the real cause.
The impacted business users were being challenged by the outcomes; they were feeling threatened by the results that expected them to give up their old way of thinking. The actionable insights that the solution proposed required the business to unlearn what had worked for them so far and approach their customers and the market differently. A consultant would have classified this as a change management failure; however this went a little deeper than just change management.
So the CIO farmed out his team to selectively target some of the empathetic users; they adopted a struggling business unit and worked with the business head to help her. Having been pushed to a corner and labelled as an underperforming unit, the business head was happy to use any help possible. She became an ally and agreed to work with the team. The team worked in their spare time, over weekends, to meet the new partner’s requirements. The vendor pitched in with no fee to recolor the elephant.
Over the next six months everyone toiled and sweated; the business started showing an uptrend and quickly turned profitable. The business head emboldened by the success redoubled the efforts embracing the new state of nirvana. In management meetings she started talking about the tools of her success and how it has helped them grow. She urged others to discard their cynicism and give a fresh look to the solution that was probably ahead of the evolution curve in the industry.
With the numbers speaking rather than perceptions, grudgingly the CEO endorsed the way forward and slowly other units came around. The ramp up was quick and the fire spread quickly giving the company a distinct leadership position and advantage. Fresh investments gave the project a boost and the team a great sense of achievement. Success has many fathers and soon everyone wanted to talk about how they had supported the project earlier. The orphanage had one less member now.
Soon after, the CIO quit!