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Sunday, 16 June 2013

To have or not to have; Why did we buy this solution?

The Roman Empire was originally poor and small, unique and austere of virtue. With time it became corrupt, spoilt and rotten from its vices. Thus, at its fall, its acts of grandeur were obscene to both man and God.  
A virtually unknown presidential aspirant in the run up to the 2013 Kenya elections, spoke in metaphor when he theorized “when you want to be healthy, eat when hungry, and when you are hungry you do not fill your belly with food, you need a third for food, a third for water and then the other third should be breathing space”.  
If you will allow me, I would like to break down this statement into something that makes sense to someone who drives information technology in any organization.
One of the conclusive declarations one can make about technology is that there is a progressive trend and “new” is always the norm, it is also a fact that what is innovative and essential today, may become defunct and unnecessary tomorrow. Having made that statement there is a caveat, not all products that come to market, manufactured by top technology companies, are necessarily critical to your organization.
Steve Jobs famously quipped that it was really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.
The fact is, that most of the products and services brought to the marketplace have a specific niche market in mind ( I stand to be corrected by firms that don’t do market research and have a machine gun approach to product and service delivery), the bigger the product and the more expensive it is, the more constricted the market.
Given that vendors at the end of the day want to make the most money out of a product, they will milk it, cobble it with other modules, introduce superfluous features, and sell it to all and sundry who can tune in to their hallucinogenic sales pitch.
It pains me to see a big budget ERP acquired by an organization in the third world and five years later, the people on the ground don’t even understand what the solution is meant to achieve let alone even remember its name.
Before you go into a shopping spree, and I do mean the one that starts with you accepting courtesy calls from vendors who have backing from well-heeled multinational technology firms, start listening to your internal heart beat (know if you are “hungry” in the first place) appreciate the needs of your organization to a point where you can fanatically recite it as a poem. If you know your business’ ins and outs, it is probable you may find out the springs and the cogs that are miss-placed in the corporate engine.
Having said that, I have to add my voice to the stadium of people who normally throw a vendor product or service at a problem, rather than get muddy in trying to unclog the system and find a cohesive solution. It is the easiest way out.
If you take the long term route where you are fully invested in discovering your organization’s needs, challenges, or problems, more often than not you will find it is deeply seated, and your analysis will be a precursor to something bigger, take time and involve the relevant stakeholders while you are at it.  
The worst thing would be to acquire a solution that only unravels the symptoms of the problem. In all things, always review, engage and converse with the potential stakeholders, while fully appreciating the comprehensive workflows and processes that define the organization. When you arrive at a critical mass in this process, then you will have a clear picture of whether or not you need a technology to solve the issue, and when and how it can be acquired and deployed.
Never forget in all this the “Big Bang Theory”, which evolutionists claim brought about dinosaurs extinction (don’t be one). Do things gradually and in step and if the project is too big, chew what you can in bits.  
Remember, more than 20% of the solutions you find in the market today do not bring any intrinsic and specific value to your organization, even if it is being used by a Fortune 500 firm.  
Many of these solutions require you to train your people in a specific manner and the business value is lost in a clutter of business idioms like “efficiency, effectiveness and cost savings”.
I beseech you; next time you want to acquire a solution, make sure it is very clear in no uncertain terms where the efficiencies, effectiveness and cost savings come from, and this should be expressed in your organization’s language, where every stakeholder is clear on what it means to them, even before you commit to acquire any specific solution. Here, I am assuming you will have already determined your needs way in advance.
The final picture you need to have in your gallery of achievements is one where your organization has only acquired products and services that meet your specific needs and are not an attrition point for your revenues, thus avoiding the nagging and haunting question, “Why did we buy this solution?”
Article was done for the CIO East Africa March 2013 Issue 

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