Bridge to Somewhere

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It seems like the business world has come a long way down the technology road. But in reality we have only just begun. When I perform an analysis for a client company, I can almost always find an information solution that is just begging to be created, a solution that brings dramatic acceleration of business results and competition-stomping competitive power. There is so much low-hanging fruit that almost any business can leverage its own information to reduce costs, improve customer service, create new markets, and change the rules on its competition.

However, there are large impediments to progress too, the largest of which is a failure to communicate. That is where the project management profession comes in. We can help remove these impediments and become the catalyst for change. The most effective business-transforming information solutions are new, integrated, custom solutions that replace existing, outdated software.

Most companies are extremely information inefficient. The average company’s set of information and software support solutions is a messy collection of purchased packages and custom software that is outdated and just limps along, consuming most of the IT budget just to keep running. These software packages do not communicate well with each other, and almost none of them offer anything in the way of real-time, actionable business information.



However, there is a great deal invested in this software, and the usual plan for the future is to gradually enhance the existing software to provide needed modern functionality. The traditional belief is that a total replacement would be hugely expensive, be unmanageable, and take far too long to accomplish. This is wrong-headed thinking. But it is prevalent throughout most companies.

I was talking with the CIO of a major life insurance carrier just a couple of years ago. He made a comment that, unfortunately, limits the effectiveness of his entire company in the marketplace. He said, ''There is too much inertia to overcome. We cannot start over.''

The only way to achieve dramatic business-boosting results, or even survive into the future, is to be willing to start over any time that option makes sense. Granted, the existing collection of software came at a steep price. But the technology horizon today has expanded almost beyond belief. There are no limits to information movement, accessibility, processing power, storage, or representation. The only limits are in the minds of those responsible for managing the information. They need to understand the new dynamics of information capability made possible by our new age.

Your IT department may not be ready to change their thinking. But they are not making the business decisions. They are not the ones responsible for the bottom and the top line. They are not the ones responsible for your company’s position in the marketplace. Your CEO and senior management team are the experts in your business. They understand the information required to enhance business value. They know where they want to take your company. They think about it all the time.

A technology expert cannot make the decision. One of the problems with information capabilities in business today is that technology experts have made too many of the information decisions. We are stuck with outdated solutions that ceased providing business benefit years ago. IT departments have, for the most part, wrong-headed thinking about how to navigate the future and make progress. They would advocate keeping what you have and making it work.

IT departments have many buzzwords to explain their plans. They can create logical arguments for justifying their approach. It may sound logical, but it doesn’t make good business sense. Everything they want to do just delays and camouflages the inevitable reality that the competition will eventually change the rules and you will be forced to play catch-up.

Technology people do not speak the language of business. Any information capability must be based on your business plan. It must support and enhance every business initiative. It must provide business value far beyond its cost. It must not be wrapped in technical jargon to justify its own existence. It must actually deliver measurable, definitive, outsized business results; else it has failed, provides no business value, and should never be attempted.

The return on investment for starting over can be astounding, compared to the risk. It can provide the information capability to enhance every business initiative. It can be the missing link which binds all other dimensions of your company’s business. Project management professionals are in a unique position to understand the power of information flow, communicate the business benefit in terms that everyone can understand, and actually manage the process to make it happen. You have the capability to bring together the divergent interests of information technology and senior management for initiatives to accelerate your company’s unique business.

More than anyone else in your company, you have the opportunity to be the catalyst for positive change. So seize the opportunity and don’t be afraid to think big. But also remember to start small and be very efficient. By paying close attention to the steps outlined below, you can achieve an astounding solution for your company, all with low risk and low cost.

1. Think Big.

Your CEO and senior management have the clearest vision of your company’s future. They are the ones who best understand your company and its information. Help them imagine the ''perfect'' information flow in your business — all the information, in the right place, to the right person, at the right time to just make your company hum.

Write the story of a ''day in the life'' of that information. What information moves where and when and to whom? Now, this is important: don’t worry about how it will get there, just what information, where, and when. Be sure to include everything, even if you think it can’t be done. And don’t even think about cost.

Write down everything, the perfect solution, in language that anyone who knows your company can understand. As in all creative endeavors, if you can see it, you can build it. It’s no different with software.

2. Start Small.

Begin by assuming this solution will never actually be completed. It is only a pilot project. It must prove its worth every step of the way, or else it will be immediately cancelled.

With the ''day in the life'' story, form a small development team to begin the pilot project. Create the solution in small steps as prototypes. Make each prototype available live, for all to see and try, including your CEO and his senior management team. As long as they can see the value, and the evolving solution matches the vision, the project continues. However, if they determine the solution is not what they want, the project is cancelled and no more cost is incurred.

A creative environment is maintained throughout the entire project. One prototype will generate even better ideas for the next prototype. The final solution is an accumulation of good ideas that your CEO, your management team, and a development team decide to keep — ideas that have all improved upon the original ''day in the life'' vision.

3. Be Efficient.

The cost of software development has only one dimension: labor. Anything that reduces labor reduces total cost, time frame, and risk all at the same time. I have successfully employed a number of techniques that reduce labor cost to a small fraction of normal.

4. Form a Small Team of Highly Qualified People.

Remarkably, a small team of no more than eight highly qualified people can create almost any software solution in less than 12 months, provided the right tools are used. I have used this technique to create solutions with as many as 60,000 function points — an incredibly large solution.

5. Use the Right Tools.

I use the CEO’s method of picking software development tools. I pick the one that gets you to ''done'' the quickest. I don’t care what everyone else uses or what Microsoft is selling or even what your IT guys may want. There is only one criterion: the largest amount of software created in the shortest amount of time. Period.

That tool is eDeveloper by Magic Software Enterprises. It is by far the most productive software development tool available. I can almost guarantee that your IT department will not like this tool. But for minimizing risk and cost, it is the best choice on the market today. I have solutions using this tool running in companies across the country, managing over $50 billion in assets. It is a proven winner and has never been beaten in speed-of-development contests.

6. Use the Right Techniques.

The ''small team'' and ''right tools'' concepts above combine to enable solution creation for one-tenth the normal cost. But that can be amplified even further using the 10 development principles of the ''profit method'' explained in my free book PROFIT, available at ProfitMethod.com. I have documented proof of extremely large solutions created for as little as one-thirtieth the normal cost. This is an incredible feat and is available for free to anyone who cares to learn these methods and take advantage of the opportunity.

There is great opportunity for you and your company. You can create a low-risk and low-cost information solution that implements your CEO’s vision, cancellable at any time, delivered in small steps for everyone to try, and created for less than one-tenth the normal cost.

The communication gap between the IT department and senior management is insurmountable in most companies. They don’t even speak the same language. Someone must build the communication bridge to bring the two together. The commonsense approach to achieving breakthrough business results explained in this article is easily doable and has been applied successfully many times. The ones best qualified to make it happen are the ones who can close the information gap — the business project managers.

About the Author

With over four decades of experience, Art Pennington is president of the Profit Research Institute, the founder of four successful software companies, an author, a keynote speaker, a consultant, a holder of multiple patents, and the creator of the ''profit method'' of business success. Art’s free book, PROFIT, is available at www.profitmethod.com.
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