Perfect projects

There is a big difference between carrying out a simple project involving one or two people and one involving a complex mix of people, organisations and tasks. The secret to successfully managing projects lies in careful planning.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  September 19, 2005

|~|PHOTO-1---Keay---Ethos-BODY.jpg|~||~|IT project failures are all too common. Billions of dollars are wasted worldwide on failed projects annually. Some make the headlines, while the vast majority is quickly forgotten. When economies are flourishing and the enterprise’s balance sheets show profits, project failures are less of a concern because the organisation is in a position to absorb the overhead costs of failures.

Nevertheless, with competition rife and the growing need to squeeze more out of shrinking IT budgets, this is an attitude that will have to change. “We can afford to have the best, but this is no excuse to take a haphazard approach to implementations. We must research and plan well to make sure the project is on the right footing from the start, and that it will deliver the required results in the long term,” explains Colonel Hamdan Bin Dalmook, CIO of Dubai Police.

Effective project management is an integral part of the CIO’s role, and becomes more critical as the scale and complexity of deployments and infrastructure revamps grows. Though the reasons for failure are wide and varied, some common causes range from insufficient planning, lack of resource and activity co-ordination and poor communication between the concerned parties. Unrealistic estimations of duration and costs, lack of control over the progress of the project, and a lack of quality control can also be serious problems. The primary responsibility of the CIO, however, is to assess the need for any potential project and determine whether the venture will prove worthwhile in terms of business benefits and return-on-investment (ROI).

“Too often, [CIOs] hear about a new technology and think, ‘we have to have one of those’ without stopping to think about whether or not this is true. If the technology will bring competitive advantage or make operations more efficient, then of course this is a project that is worthwhile, but if it is all hype, the project could end up costing the organisation more than it can benefit,” Bin Dalmook continues.

Good project management and organisation will guide the project through a controlled and well-managed visible set of activities to achieve the desired results. Without a clearly defined project management methodology, however, those involved in the project will not be clear about how much responsibility, authority and accountability they have, and as a result there will often be confusion surrounding the project, resulting delays and budget over-runs.

In the course of assessing thousands of IT projects over the years, in areas including enterprise resource management (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain, integration, collaboration and e-commerce, Nucleus Research has found that it is rarely the technology itself that is the culprit when an IT project fails to deliver.

“Selecting the right solution is only the first step to achieving a positive ROI from technology,” says Ian Campbell, CEO of the research firm. “In analysing the lessons learned from thousands of companies about how best to achieve project success we have found several common mistakes companies make.”||**|||~|PHOTO-2---Kaurin-BODY.jpg|~||~|Missteps in project planning and management often hinder the technology’s ability to produce maximised results. The Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) Free Trade Zone Authority (FTZA) has discovered that adopting a holistic view to projects is the best way to meet the ongoing demands of an evolving business, and as a result has laid out a long-term plan for IT developments. “We have an overriding business vision and in order to achieve this we have established a three- to five-year strategy for the upgrade of our technology infrastructure — this gives everyone a cohesive view of what we are driving for,” says the authority’s chairman, HH Sheikh Faisal Bin Saqr Al Qassimi, Ruler of RAK and member of the Supreme Council.

“We recognise that we cannot do everything at once, however. We have broken down our overall plan into a series of manageable projects, which we have then prioritised and will tackle one at a time. This enables us to give each part our full attention but because they are all interrelated, we never lose sight of our ultimate goal.”

While all enterprises want applications that meet their own specific business requirements and are easy to adopt and use, companies that customise applications too much can ultimately struggle to achieve the ROI they desire. If an organisation intends to customise an application there must be careful planning and projection on the part of the CIO early on in the project’s life in order to limit future scope creep.

“Initially [companies that customise applications] spend more on consulting. They take more time to deploy than a vanilla application and on an ongoing basis, they require more consulting and personnel to support and evolve — particularly if the vendor has a regular required upgrade cycle,” cautions a Nucleus Research paper on how to avoid critical project errors.

Enterprises must commence project planning with a full and detailed assessment of their internal business and IT processes to clarify exactly where existing procedures are functioning satisfactorily and what the focus of improvements should be. By collaborating with the different divisions and departments that will be affected by the changes it is possible for the CIO to gain a rounded view of how the systems are perceived by the user groups.

“Organisations need to spend time with various departments, defining their end-to-end processes, involving staff in the implementation of the strategy and assisting them in understanding how their processes contribute to the output of the organisation,” explains Robert Keay, managing partner at Ethos Consultancy. “An essential part of the pre-implementation process is knowing what end users want their quality strategy to achieve. Objectives should be set, but in such a way that they also [deliver] results,” he adds.

One organisation that did just this is the ING Group, a global financial services provider from the Netherlands, which has over 60 million customers in more than 50 countries in the areas of insurance, banking and asset management. ING DiBa, the retail only e-banking arm of the company, recently deployed a range of EMC technology, including information lifecycle management (ILM) solutions designed to improve storage organisation and document management.

ING DiBa now organises its data depending on the required speed of availability and chooses the cheapest possibility of storage accordingly. In order to customise the solutions effectively, the bank found it was important to involve business departments to get an overview of the criticality of the data.

Zeljko Kaurin, director of IT operations at ING DiBa, emphasises this type of project cannot be handled with a ‘copy and paste’ approach. “Individual scope is important, although if you ask seven people, you get eight different answers. The business departments understand things in terms of their quarterly budget: They want quality and availability at a low cost, so they were happy to supply the classifications,” he says. “All our departments have a technical interface — an employee to translate business needs to technical solutions.”||**|||~|PHOTO-3---Baki-BODY.jpg|~||~|While a copy and paste approach to a project may result in an ill-fitting solution, there is nothing wrong with learning from the mistakes and successes of others. Looking at a vendor’s reference accounts can provide a useful point of reference for CIOs. From the experiences of the organisations detailed in case studies, CIOs can glean pointers and select elements they wish to transfer to their own projects. Consultants with experience of projects in a specific vertical sector can also provide examples of approaches that have worked for similar businesses.

“By looking at what has worked in similar situations before, a customer can see whether a certain solution is genuinely suited to their business needs and work out how to make the project run effectively in their own environment,” explains 3Com Middle East’s technical manager, Mohamed Emam.

Energy producer Adma undertook a large scale, critical project to standardise its core oil exploration operations on a supercomputing cluster featuring Intel Itanium 2 processors. In order to achieve the performance improvements and cost reduction it was driving for, Adma worked in close collaboration with Intel, benefiting from the vendors exhaustive industry experience. An evaluation was carried out at the vendor’s energy competency centre in Abu Dhabi, a high-tech facility specifically designed to allow customers to optimise solutions for the energy sector.

“Organisations throughout the energy industry are increasingly investing in open-standards Intel platforms to power all business operations, from the locating, exploration and extraction of oil& gas, to the transportation, distribution and management of goods across the supply chain,” says Ramzi Abdul Baki, business development manager, energy sector at Intel Middle East, Turkey and Africa. Following these industry trends had yielded significant practical and financial value for Adma — the organisation was able to deploy the new solution in two weeks and received a three-fold processing performance improvement, at 50% of the cost of the energy producer’s legacy systems.

Consultants and vendors can provide valuable guidance based on their experience, and can deliver skills and efficiency that internal teams may not be able to match. However, enterprises need to select their project partners with care as the more complex the venture, the more critical the choice of service providers will be.

The vendor’s reputation and certification alone are not the only safeguards to ensuring its competency. References should be checked carefully. In addition, a company’s previous experience with a particular vendor’s products and services can also be a good guide for CIOs in assessing the suitability of a service provider. “A good, long-term relationship with a vendor and knowledge of its products is very useful when deciding who to work with,” says Omar Al Ali, project manager for the deployment of Oracle e-business suite software at the National Human Resource Development & Employment Authority (Tanmia). “Similar attitudes, priorities and approaches also bring an element of understanding and compatibility to a partnership,” he adds.

Qatar Petroleum (QP) took care to communicate its requirements with its consulting partner Wipro, agreeing in advance the expected time and costs of its exploration of the use of convergence for its prestigious Ras Abu Aboud development project.

The 11-month project saw the Indian service provider working with QP to design, architect and test an engineering consultancy and IP telephony solution on a converged network for the proposed Qatar Petroleum Complex. Wipro’s experience and commitment to customer satisfaction meant the vendor had a comprehensive understanding of its customer’s requirements, according to Nasser A Kamal, project manager for QP’s engineering department on major projects, who attributes the good relationship with the successful, on-time delivery of the implementation.

“The project timelines were aggressive and Wipro ensured timely completion of the project with the deliverables meeting our quality expectations,” Kamal says. “We were also impressed by Wipro’s understanding of convergence,” he adds.||**|||~|PHOTO-4---Samman-BODY.jpg|~||~|By jointly creating a detailed project management schedule and work breakdown structure that defines the scope of a venture, both vendor and customer can establish their precise areas of responsibility and accountability. Once both parties are aware of what is to be expected of them, they will each be able to provide the required resources to execute the plan.

“The project team as a whole will also need to develop response plans for any problems that may arise and require the allocation of time buffers; drawing up of contingency plans or deciding to outsource part of the project’s scope,” advises Bassam A Samman, CEO and founder of Collaboration Management and Control Solutions (CMCS), which delivers solutions based on implementing best practices, providing a range of project management solutions to businesses in the Middle East.

While the contribution of the vendor or consultant can be extremely valuable, the enterprise should retain a degree of ownership and control over the project. The CIO needs to ensure his team is involved every step of the way. Ensuring that upper-level management is regularly updated means the organisation is able to have a clear view of the project and ensures that everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Involving the C-level management can also help to smooth any issues with the enterprise-wide adoption of the new technology. According to research conducted by Nucleus, this is particularly important if employees display reticence towards new systems or if the project requires new collaboration between different departments, as managers can help to motivate use.

At a recent vendor roundtable, government delegates from around the region joined leading vendors to discuss how authorities in the Middle East are undertaking technology projects to deliver services through the internet, improving the overall efficiency and functioning of the public sector. As governments and enterprises share common goals, such as promoting employee efficiency and productivity and reducing budget deficits, corporations can take valuable lessons from the way in which countries around the region are driving effective adoption of their e-government initiatives by making the new applications key to their day-to-day operations.

“It is about placing technology at the heart of how you regulate business and conduct affairs,” according to Samir Mirdad, regional business development manager, public sector, for Sun Microsystems Middle East and North Africa. “The hurdles, however, are considerable [as are] the investments needed in both technology and training,” he adds.

As Mirdad points out, most new technology projects require at least some element of user training. Even if an application is intuitive enough to be useable without formal instruction, any related process or culture changes should be driven home with the use of tutorials.

Following the vendor’s estimates on how much training will be needed, and the experiences of other companies that have implemented similar technology, provides useful benchmarks for establishing how much and what type of training will be needed. Knowing the end users and their skills and weaknesses also make it possible to deliver focused and effective training to the relevant people.

“There are many documented cases where companies have tried to install new technologies or systems without considering the impact on social systems or without giving thought to how it will be received by workers,” says Tony Alam, managing director of Computer Network Systems (CNS). “The result is usually an expensive failure, with employee reactions ranging from simple misunderstanding to outright sabotage and organised labour actions,” he adds.||**|||~|PHOTO-5---Alam-BODY.jpg|~||~|Good communication also plays a significant role in ensuring a project’s success. If the service provider, CIO and users are conversing and understanding each other, then the new strategy or process will be carried out smoothly. If there is no common language, the gap cannot be bridged; hence the risk for failure increases. Statistics show 80% of IT project failures are the results of poorly managed change.

“There will never be a pre-cast change strategy that can fit all for 100% success,” continues Alam. He advocates the use of change management software to help guarantee the desired results from any project. “There are elements within any change strategy that are crucial for its success: adequate IT tools can work as a catalyst, not as an obstacle for change; internal communication with all parties affected directly or indirectly by change, and most of all, the ability to measure and calculate adaptability levels of change [are essential],” he explains.

Furthermore, IT departments often assume that because the implementation is complete, that particular project is complete. Continual evaluation of a project’s performance will ensure it is still on the right track and surveying user opinions can help CIOs to measure the true value of the new implementation in a practical environment, identify additional ROI opportunities or highlight any glitches that can be fixed with minor modifications. “Processes need to be tied to performance indicators and linked to financial measurements which will ultimately illustrate the value of the project, and flag up where more work is needed,” states 3Com’s Emam.

An IT strategic plan may include hundreds of projects of various sizes and priorities, and all these need to be delivered with success if the CIO wants to achieve the desired business goals. Truly strategic projects are never considered complete just because the deployment stage is over. It may be possible to further leverage or extend the new technology to drive greater value.

Even if no changes, upgrades or additions are planned, it may still be possible to get more value out of the investment by examining ongoing maintenance and reviewing user best practices. “The solution has to happen on a recurring basis — it is a process of ongoing consolidation and leveraging. The technical environment has to handle changing business demands in order to keep up with the organisation’s needs,” says RAK FTZA’s general director and CEO, Oussama El Omari.

There is no doubt that good project management practices will provide the backbone for implementing a reliable project that will effectively integrate strategy with technology. According to CMCS’ Samman, organisations with extensive project management experience have measurably better performance. For example, “Companies with mature practices deliver projects on time and within budget whereas less mature companies may miss their schedule targets by 40% and their cost targets by 20%,” he says. “Organisations with low project management maturity face other undesirable events such as increased indirect costs, late project deliveries, missed market opportunities and dissatisfied customers,” he adds.

Building a clear business case in the beginning and using it as a budgeting and planning tool to structure the expected customisation, training, consulting, personnel and other costs can help CIOs to avoid such pitfalls, giving a roadmap to maximised project value and satisfaction all round.||**|||~||~||~|

The October issue of Arabian Computer News erroneously referred to the title of HH Sheikh Faisal Bin Saqr Al Qassimi.

Arabian Computer News unreservedly apologises for this error, and recognises that HH Sheikh Faisal Bin Saqr Al Qassimi is in fact Chairman of the Ras Al Kahimah Free Zone.

The magazine sincerely apologises for any undue embarrassment or duress its error may have caused the Ruling Family, HH Sheikh Faisal Bin Saqr Al Qassimi, or the population of Ras Al Kahimah.


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