In this month's IT products, we have all the latest electronic desirabilia, such as a PDA that tells you where to go and a notepad that lets you scrawl on your laptop – plus 10 tips on how to buy technology

Ten tips on successful IT procurement

Remarkably, some statistics show that up to 95% of IT solutions fail in their task. In most cases, this is because IT procurement is littered with pitfalls. These include incomplete specification and contractual, technological and management changes during the lengthy procurement process, which can lead to cost and time overruns. Investment should be viewed as an opportunity for the business – not just as a means to spend the IT budget. Anna McCrea from IT Construction Best Practice looks at what you must consider to make your IT solution work for you …

1 Understand the reasons for dissatisfaction with the results of IT investments
Clients and vendors speak a different language and have different views on IT products. Clients view IT from the perspective of their businesses. The language they use is business-speak rather than IT-speak. Clients often omit certain goals or functionalities because they consider them obvious. IT developers think and speak in IT language, and all ambiguities are resolved at an IT level and not at business level. Because IT vendors are keen to get their commissions, they are happy to sell solutions that can have more functionality added later; this minimises potential problems and costs and makes it more likely it will become a selected supplier.

2 Assess the need and be certain of what the IT solution is going to do for your business
A clear statement of need is essential before a budgeting exercise can begin. A general statement that the IT could “do this, a bit of that and if possible maybe also something else” will not lead to successful procurement. Business priorities should be rated and the proposed IT product’s properties should not be mistaken for the required functionality underpinning the business. 3 Analyse the processes the IT will be applied to
A detailed picture of the relevant processes and procedures by which data is currently handled needs to be developed. The timing of critical processes should also be established. For example, if there are any processes dependent on prior completion of other processes, these dependencies should be noted. This will enable prospective IT investors to see any scope for rationalisation within their businesses.

4 Seek independent business assessment
Being too close to one’s business can lead to missing real opportunities for IT improvement. An independent assessment should always be sought. “Independent” does not necessarily mean appointing an external business consultancy, but may entail using professionals external to the department or company to carry out the analysis.

5 Think about IT abilities and attitudes of users
Human factors have a critical impact on the success of the design and implementation of major IT projects. Analysing the abilities of those who will use the system is a useful exercise. Employees who are not IT-savvy may reject sophisticated systems because of a lack of skill, or fear, or an inability to see benefits. Any proposal should be widely discussed with the future users. Their “buy-in” is one of the keys to successful implementation. Again, these consultations should not be carried out by the management, but by independent evaluators who can objectively analyse abilities, attitudes and real needs.

6 Prepare a requirements specification
A poor and incomplete requirements specification is as bad as not having one at all. All the data gathered during the requirements collection in the form of process maps, interviews, surveys, workshops and business reports should be assembled into a formal requirements specification. This document will be a blueprint for the IT developer or vendor and will act as a safety net for the company’s IT investment. A complete specification should include the following: the purpose of the product; identification of the users, clients, customers and stakeholders; the constraints; facts and assumptions regarding the operational environment as well as users; the scope of work and product; functional and data requirements; the look and feel, usability and performance; maintainability and support; security risks; costs; and off-the shelf solutions and ideas. 7 Include future development and requirements
All businesses should plan for growth, and this also applies to new investments, particularly in IT. This possibility of change and growth should be reflected in the requirements, and the vendors should be able to price the additional software or product development.

A nightmare scenario is when every new piece of functionality needed turns into a difficult programming process that is vastly expensive and time-consuming. If a piece of software is not developed to grow, every future add-on may be difficult to incorporate. 8 Management commitment, project management and communication
Without continuous support by the management, as well as constant progress communication to the troops, the chances of success are limited. You should appoint an IT project leader within the organisation. This person needs to be decisive, a good communicator, have knowledge of the end users’ requirements and the company’s overall operations, and be widely respected for their skills. When an IT project is well managed and running to time and budget, future users will await the results with positive anticipation.

9 Ask IT vendors all the essential questions
Before signing the contract, post-implementation issues and training should be discussed and subsequently incorporated. Continuous training and an accessible helpdesk are an integral part of every IT procurement. Until every user is comfortable with the new IT, the vendor’s job is not finished. Another issue is post-implementation assessment. Often users expect different functionality or different levels of complexity, or generally feel uneasy about the new application. All users should be consulted and their views incorporated, hence post-implementation user feedback and corrections need to be dealt with before the final sign-off and payment.

10 Monitor the project’s continuous applicability during its development
During a project there are likely to be many reviews and points when a decision must be taken to either continue or stop the project. The decision-makers must be prepared to answer some challenging questions. For example, does the business case for the project still hold, and is the project on time and on budget?

Serious consideration should be given to stopping the project or undertaking a full-scale review if any of the answers are negative.

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