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GTEC 2014 exposes the familiar culprits for public sector IT failures

A panel discussion during the recent government technology showcase in Ottawa looks at communication issues and more


GTEC 2014

IT projects still fail at an abysmal rate, and much of the blame falls on IT management, according to an expert panel at the recent GTEC conference in Ottawa.

Comprised of current and former government IT leaders, the panel pointed to the familiar culprits that sabotage many efforts, including a lack of effective communication, inadequate requirements gathering, poor user buy in and so on. These well-worn arguments are echoed in a recent Gartner Research Circle survey that cites IT’s lack of organizational skills, not technical skills, as the cause of most failed projects.

“They all have challenges with the human-side of project success,” state Mike Rollins, Research VP in his report. “It is a different type of conversation, not so much about the technology as it is about how do you get buy-in, influence stakeholders and achieve lasting behavior change.”

Communication is key, and IT leaders need to “actively participate” to ensure the value of the technology is effectively communicated and understood, said Fabria Anderson, a former CIO with Municipal Property Assessment Corp.

“When we have miscommunicated in terms of the value of technology, is it partly because of they way we communicate,” said Anderson, currently the CEO of Acutenet. “We need to know the business and we need to understand the implications of a technology on the business.”

To stem the tide and improve the chances of a project getting the thumbs up from the business, the panel suggested a number of strategies:

Think Different. It served Apple well, and when it comes to planning and deploying IT projects, CIOs should encourage participation from a variety of sources, and not just the “usual suspects,” said Tim Hutchinson, creative director at Carleton University ‘s Living Lab, an experimental project in problem solving. “We try to get a variety of people involved, but also we want some of the ‘unusual’ players in the room as well. Think about other (stakeholders) who might be touched by the issue and bring them in.”

Learn Their Language: The CRTC knew it would have to think differently if it wanted to be successful in a recent campaign to solicit feedback from young Canadian viewers, said Sidney Hill, CRTC’s manager of web publishing policy and standards.

In an effort to “create a buzz,” drive traffic to the Let’s Talk TV discussion forum and encourage participation visitors to share their views, they reached out to 16-25 year olds using social media sites such as Twitter and Vine.  The response was “above average,” with the digital ads receiving more than 16 million views and 30,000 click-throughs to the discussion forum. The campaign also increased CRTC’s Twitter followers by 700.

Start small. The bigger the project, the bigger shot at failure. Tanu Mohan, Manager at Deloitte suggests identifying one small problem and developing a proof of concept.

“Start with a project that is small enough to manage, but enough to matter,” she said.  A proof of concept can test drive a hypothesis and provide quick wins, which is what you need to bring to the executives.”

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