Sunday, December 16, 2007

Life on the other side of the table: Businness - IT Alignment Part II

Before I explain my point, I would like to share my recent experience. In the last couple of years, I have had opportunity to witness a few New Business process automation initiatives involving BPM, Document Management Systems and Document Capture systems. The key user groups for such initiatives are Data Entry users and Underwriters.

Data Entry operators are required to enter at least 150-200 data values spread across 4-6 pages of the application form. The critical requirement of such user group is to have a very efficient means of entering data as this data is required to be captured from various pages of image file. In one instance the implementation involved split screen (for image and data entry form), and guided data entry. In the 2nd instance, users were provided with 2 monitors - 1 for data entry page and 1 for image. In the 3rd instance, users were provided single monitor with two separate windows for data entry form and image.

The 1st instance was the most convenient and productive way of working while the 3rd was least, as in this instance, users were required to manually scroll the image and move across the pages of image to capture data values. In addition they were also required to use "ALT - TAB" functionality to move between the image and the data entry screen.

What do you think, which of the above has been the most successful implementation. Instance 1, right? No, absolutely wrong. In fact, Instance 3, has been by far the most successful implementation.

Another set of users who are concerned about drop in their productivity due to use of Imaging system is Underwriters. Underwriters are required to go through multiple types of documents - application form, insurance advisor report, medical reports, underwriting manual, etc - while they make underwriting decision. They too require an efficient means by which they could flip through these images and arrive at their underwriting decision quickly. Underwriters have been provided multiple solutions such as dual CRT monitors, dual LCD monitors and even single CRT monitors. But the implementation that has been the most successful has been the one involving not so sophisticated technology i.e. single CRT monitor.

Why do you think that even the most sophisticated and relatively expensive solutions did not result into project success as was expected?

The answer lies in Business - IT alignment i.e. Business' IT alignment or orientation. Amongst the above instances, the implementation that took a lot longer than expected infact involved the best of the technologies and the best of the solutions. However, in the hindsight, I believe users of this implementation looked at this implementation as merely an IT initiative driven by IT as it involved the use of complex technologies such as BPM, Web Services driven integration with back-office systems, etc. User ownership remained purely on paper and the vision provided by the project sponsor was not shared by the real users of the system at the operational level. Primarily because there was very little involvement and participation of middle level executives in understanding the technology & solution - its limitations, benefits. These middle level executives were responsible for educating and supporting the operational users during the process of implementation. They lacked complete understanding in what the system could deliver and failed to provide the necessary support to the operational users on issues such as initial drop in productivity. And across the operational users, there was a fear of failure. As a result, the operational users kept coming up with issues deferring the implementation of the system rather than coming up with ways and means by which the system could be implemented.

I think certain organizations have an appetite to accept technology in their DNA, where as other organizations do not. The later types typically are laggards and followers in implementing new systems and technology initiatives. Business' IT alignment can be defined as this appetite for leveraging technology, or ability to manage change involving technology or even ownership of IT projects. And this Business' IT orientation over and above IT's Business orientation is critical in creating a successful technology driven organizations.

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