07 August 2018
Cloud migrations and IT deployment projects sound easy on paper but ensuring their successful implementations can be another matter entirely. As I explained at my presentation at Cloud Expo Asia earlier this month, IT transformation is not just about the right solutions and technical expertise, but having the right experience also matters.
Achieving a satisfactory solution
One perennial skillset would undoubtedly be the ability to separate genuine requirements from frivolous requests, especially in large IT projects with multiple stakeholders. Indeed, this was the exact issue that my team in Indonesia faced a few years ago with a large food and beverage client with worldwide revenues in the billions of US dollars.
The multinational food giant was looking to attain a higher level of efficiency from their manufacturing environment but was constrained by their existing ERP system. Developed in-house over many years, both its code and backend infrastructure built to support it were inflexible and could not be scaled. The proposed solution was hence to deploy it within a new private cloud environment, and simultaneously rewrite the existing code to gain cost efficiencies not found in the previous system.
As the project progressed, the project goalposts were constantly shifted as requirements were continuingly added by the management. We finally realized that the real agenda was to reduce operating costs. This did not mean that the earlier “wants” such as increased automation, digital transformation, or better productivity were false; but underlying these requests was the desire to save money.
This understanding allowed us to propose an acceptable solution – we would hire the existing IT team and transfer all IT software and hardware assets to us. In return, we committed to delivering the same level of performance and uptime that they currently enjoy but at a cost 20 percent lower than what they were currently paying. This gave our customer immediate cost savings and allowed them to focus on their core competency, while the onus was on us to leverage our expertise to optimise IT delivery to make a profit.
Not all problems are caused by technology
While not all problems are caused by technology, its judicious application can certainly help solve a host of problems. There was this other IT project in the city of Medan. There was a newly-launched commercial airport rail link between the Kualanamu International Airport and the city area. Ridership of the rail link was far way below projections, however.
The general manager accused the ticketing system of being too slow, claiming that it was pushing travelers towards other modes of transportation such as shuttle buses or taxis. That was a problem for my company, as we supplied the ticketing system. One proposal was to spend US$150,000 for a full-scale study where a team would be stationed for a month at the airport to physically count the number of people passing through. I felt there must be a better way.
After I caught a flight down to Medan to review the situation on the ground, I counter-proposed with a suggestion to capture an anonymized snapshot of a thousand people at the airport at predefined times of the day through their mobile devices. This would be done once in the morning, and once in the evening, and followed-up with another check five hours later. Working with the telecommunications team, we were able to quickly implement that at practically zero cost.
The findings that came back proved astounding. Extrapolating from our sample, it clearly showed that of 10,000 travelers that landed at the airport each day, that a mere 1,500 a day made their way to the city – the rest went elsewhere. In this way, we obtained conclusive proof that the problem wasn’t the system but was due to overly optimistic business projections.
Finding success in IT deployments
As illustrated earlier, it is essential that topmost decision makers be identified as early as possible and a productive conversation started with them. Once we were able to speak with the owner of the above-mentioned multinational food and beverage firm, we were able to quickly determine the actual reason behind the project. And this could essentially be summed up in just two words, which was to “reduce cost”.
While it is a given that there much are unknown at the beginning of a given IT project, it can be easy to get priorities mixed up as the deliverables grow over span of the project. To stay focused on what is important, it is hence crucial that top priorities are clearly identified and properly articulated from the start. Indeed, an excessive volume of miscommunications during the project is a clear sign that the actual requirements of a client have not been adequately understood.
Finally, expertise cannot be commingled with the need to properly understand how the business works. To make a difference in IT transformation projects, it is vital that consultants or vendors themselves become specialists in the industry to understand the various business processes and their interrelationships. Only then are the consultants able to bring their technical expertise to bear and bring about successful IT transformation.