The Curious Case of the Wasted IT Investment

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There’s no doubt that if you want to be an efficient IT organization, you need efficient tools. Some might say that you need the best tools.

But when happens when those tool investments fail? And perhaps, more importantly, how do you prevent poor investments from ever happening again?

Here’s a story that might sound familiar to you of a (fictional) company who made an investment in a tool and then failed to see any return for it – and what they did to improve.

The Curious Case of the Wasted IT Investment

Dwight is a CIO for a mid-sized organization. He recently convinced his boss, the CEO, Lynn, that they needed to make a significant investment in a service management tool.

Lynn, recognizing that technology was more important than ever and there were increasingly more demands on the IT organization, agreed that IT needed the best tool on the market. They agreed that they needed a tool that would grow as that demand grew. They needed a tool that would help IT drive consistency and repeatability in process execution, but at the same time, facilitate innovation as new business drivers emerged. And while they had only developed and implemented a few service management practices, they anticipated that they would need the capability to support additional service management capabilities as the organization continued to digitize its operations. It wouldn’t be too long before the organization would need to leverage capabilities like automation, process orchestration, and chatbots. And frankly, their current service management tool had seen its better days – it was time to get a modern service management tool. Perhaps even a tool that could be used within other parts of the organization!

They decided to invest in the most expensive, fully featured service management tool on the market. It truly could do anything that they wanted to do…and more!

Dwight, Lynn and the entire team were delighted with their choice! The tool can do everything. It will undoubtedly solve all of their service management issues.

But a few weeks go by, then a few months… and both Dwight and Lynn are noticing that things aren’t improving. Even with the fancy new tool, Dwight can’t get all of the information he needs to present his updates to Lynn, who wants to see that improvement and consistent performance from the use of this tool. The IT organization still isn’t doing things in a repeatable way and many team members are still performing tasks manually. Processes are still disjointed and information does not flow well from process to process – and automation is nowhere close to becoming a reality for the IT organization. Dwight consistently ends up scrambling to gather data for the management reporting needed by Lynn.

Lynn is beginning to wonder why they decided to invest in modernizing the IT organization with this tool. Meanwhile, Dwight is worried that they failed in their modernization. He is seeing other departments prove their ROI and he is fearful that he blew their budget and won’t be able to convince Lynn ever again to invest in tools.

If you purchase the most capable tool, then how do things go wrong? The problem was never in the tool. The problem was before the tool and therefore, the tool can’t fix the problem. It’s like trying to build a house on quicksand. No matter what materials you use to build the house, it’s not going to stop it from sinking until you deal with the quicksand problem.

Let’s start with where Lynn and Dwight made their mistakes.
The first mistake is thinking a tool investment was the key to modernizing IT. A tool should never be your first investment. Are tools important? Absolutely! But a tool-first mentality ignores the most important part of your organization: the people using that tool.

Let’s start with the members of IT and how they need to be a part of modernization.

Lynn and Dwight should have asked themselves:

  • Do the members of IT understand why we’re investing in this tool?
  • Do they understand what role the tool will play in their everyday work?
  • Do they know how the tool will improve their work?
  • Have they been properly trained to use every part of the tool?

The mindset and buy-in from the team is important above all because these are the individuals who will be using the tool and ensuring it’s providing maximum return. When they feel they are part of the decision-making process, they will be more invested in learning and working with the tool. If everyone in the organization is invested in working with the tool, they’ll take the time to learn it and master it so that they are actually seeing all of the benefits of its many features.

The next thing Dwight should have addressed is the organization’s processes. Dwight should have ensured his processes were clearly defined, documented and adaptable. Then he should have identified how the tool will enable those processes, and communicate the processes and the tool’s role across departments and within the IT organization.

Defining (or redefining) processes will remove any ambiguity in service delivery. It ensures that there is transparency within IT. And Dwight and Lynn will have a clear idea of how the tool is working – and how well IT is able to contribute to business outcomes.
These steps seem simple, don’t they? But Dwight and Lynn skipped them because they were so certain that investing in the premium tool would instantly (and easily) fix all of their problems. Instead, they ended up in the exact same place they were before they purchased the tool – only now they’re spending a boatload of cash, and not getting the return they had hoped. A curious case of a wasted IT investment.

The lesson for every CIO, CFO, and CEO?

Don’t invest in a tool thinking it will solve the problem. If your car wasn’t working properly, you wouldn’t just purchase a new engine and think it will do the trick. You’d pop open the hood and find out exactly what’s not working then find the part that will fix it. If there’s somewhere in your organization that isn’t operating efficiently, try popping open the hood and doing the work to find the problem before you invest in a high-price, fully-featured tool.

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