Aligning Tech Initiatives with Business Objectives

Once you do an effective needs analysis, you have to match the mobile tech with those needs. Here are some tips for doing this without losing your mind.

Effective alignment begins with your state of mind 

1. IT is neither your enemy nor your beast of burden. IT people have legitimate responsibility for the operation and security of the technology systems, plus they likely know more about which technology works and doesn’t work. Treat IT as equal partners in the project. Find common ground to make the technology and IT resources work for you.  And whatever you do, be reasonable with your deadlines. Neither Rome nor any mobile application worth paying for was built in a day. 

2. Execs and business managers don’t need to know programming, but they must understand some IT processes. They should spend time with IT learning about the basic technology issues of the project so they better comprehend how it will achieve their business objectives. Be sure managers understand the technology’s limitations so they better understand its potential benefits. The more managers know about the tech process, the better they can direct IT. 

Lean towards simplicity and prioritization

3. Reduce business needs to terms your parents (or kids) understand. Be simple and direct about what you want the technology to do. And don’t try to solve every business problem in one implementation. Better to resolve one or two issues everyone understands, bask in the ROI glory of that success, then move on to the next application. 

4. Demand functionality a sixth grader can use. Regardless of the application’s complexity, the user interface must be simple. Be dogmatic about this. Nothing kills ROI faster than workers refusing to use a difficult application.

5. Don’t let the creep in. Feature Creep – that continual adding of “gee-wouldn’t-this-be-nice” features once a project starts – causes delays, cost overruns and disappointments. Lay down the law, particularly to senior execs – no new features once the mobile app project starts! That’s why there’s version 2.0

Be clear on your business objectives

6. The application needs to make money, save money or help you run a better business. If you can’t align a project with at least one of these objectives, why are you wasting IT’s time and your department’s money? 

7. Accelerate or eliminate business processes. When you do thorough needs analysis, you’ll likely discover processes that exist only because “we’ve always done things this way.” Don’t be afraid to deep-six business operation obstacles that prevent people from getting real work done faster and more profitably. 

8. Improve lines of communication to various audiences. Profitable wireless implementations depend on effective communication with stakeholders and other key players in the project. Define a process for IT to gather feedback from end users before, during and after deployment. Facilitate regular communication among execs and managers. Mobile app projects often involve multiple vendors and carriers, so establish clear lines of communication and decision-making authority from the get go. 

Be clearer on quantifying or qualifying results

9. Ideally, every objective has measurable benchmarks. While it’s best to be able to quantify the dollar impact of your deployment, sometimes it’s enough to quantify the number of tasks reduced, repair jobs increased, etc. The key is to have business units and IT agree on what you’re quantifying. 

10. Even “warm and fuzzy” has a measure for success. How many customers did we make smile? Can we double prospect referrals? Has positive employee feedback forms tripled? Wireless gains may not only be about the money, but also customer and employee satisfaction. Set up some sort of metrics to gage these intangible successes.  

Aligning technology initiatives with business objectives isn’t always easy, but it’s always essential to the success of the project.  

Get on the [Business] Case, Grace. Needs Analysis is Key

Pssst! Hey buddy, over here. Did ya hear about the growth trend in mobile computing? VC Research Group estimates the average number of wireless applications supported per enterprise user is expected to double from 3.7 today to 7.6 by 2013.

Feeling pressured to build a more competitive market presence, dramatically improve operating efficiency and fatten the bottom line? Look to mobile and wireless apps to eliminate paper and streamline operations.

The world is mobile: white collar workers, blue collar workers, senior executives, rank and file employees, civil servants, they’re all increasingly on the move. According to U.S. Census and international labor statistics early this decade, there are nearly 118 million mobile workers worldwide in the services professions alone, and 78.5 million just in wholesale and retail trade.

This frequent mobility often prevents people from working at optimum efficiently. Paper-based business systems, hours spent away from critical sources of information, and limited communication between people in motion and their co-workers or business partners decrease profitability. Improve decision making throughout the organization by giving mobile workers immediate access to mission-critical data and other valuable resources anytime they need them.

There’s a steady stream of ROI-rich case studies describing the benefits of mobile and wireless technology. The big question going through your mind, though, is probably “what about my organization? Do I have a business case, and if so, how do I find it?”

A critical first step to building a good business case is to do great needs analysis. Alas, some folks do this poorly. Here’s an article I wrote for the July/August issue of Mobile Enterprise Magazine that guides you through this critical process: Effective Needs Analysis

Does success cause high TCO?

In my recently launched Mobile Strategy Snapshot Report, I tackle the issue of total cost of ownership (TCO). Consider this a prescription for keeping a $200 smartphone from costing you $4,000 per user. The report offers 10 recommendations to keep TCO manageable:

  1. Ask potential users what their pain is
  2. Find out how end users work
  3. Be clear on training versus learning
  4. Make sure management understands its role
  5. Ask the right questions during the pilot
  6. Understand how the little things impact TCO
  7. Unless you’re on a farm, avoid silos
  8. Go for broke: Initiate an organization-wide mobile strategy
  9. Is there change you can budget for?
  10. Remember the main TCO budget items

(Click here for the full report)

But what about the TCO of implementing successful mobile ? Success changes organizations. If an app for mobile workers that replaces paper forms with handheld devices increases data flow to the office staff by 300%, you’re in trouble if the staff isn’t properly prepared.

Peter Jackson, Project Manager, Business Operations at John Sands, LTD in Australia told me “we wanted to start a new process to pay workers by having them process forms using their mobile devices. We find this is a much simpler bunch of data to collect, but it’s proving very difficult to train people because this is not a process that currently exists for them.”

Chief Strategy Officer for vendor Visage Mobile, Dean Alms observes “the short-term immediate cost for having a successful application in the field is the development time creating a system at headquarters to collect this data.” Oliver Tsai, Director of IT Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, adds, “once you experience success, other areas find out and want the same applications. This is always a financial as well as implementation challenge because you get overwhelmed with ideas, especially when the mobile application can affect every service.”

This doesn’t mean that the increased costs associated with unplanned success have to be a bad thing. The bottom line is this. Proper previous planning is one of the keys to keeping TCO low. This applies to the successes you expect to get from a mobile application.

Take the claims of the most exuberant sales person, put on your deepest rose colored glasses and double the promised impact. Then go analyze your organization’s operations to identify where these projected results will have the greatest impact in terms increased time, money and other resources. Plan accordingly.

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