Who doesn’t love the glory days at the onset of a new IT project? Enthusiasm bubbles, techies and managers alike are optimistic, certainly no one expects the possibility of a failure. Unfortunately, many long-term and especially complex projects fail to come to completion, or at the very least, don’t live up to their expectations upon completion. How can this happen? Are there any commonalities threading through IT failures? And is IT alone to blame when things go awry?
Often times, IT projects fail because lessons from previous projects haven’t been learned or taken into account when launching a new initiative. Success can falter when projects extend too long and enthusiasm fades. Sometimes killed budgets kill projects. And many times, lack of good communication between IT and other groups within the enterprise is at the core of IT failure. In essence, IT failures are not usually the fault of the IT organization alone; there are other business factors that come into play.
Some of the most common causes of IT failures within an enterprise include:
- Project managers lacking appropriate experience
- Inadequate definition of project scope
- No identification of key assumptions
- Insufficient detail in deliverables estimates
- Lack of formal strategies and methodologies
- Ineffective communications from vested parties
- Ineffective leadership and expectations management
- No tracking of requirements and progress
- Insufficient details in project plans and documentation
Miscommunication is almost always present in IT failures.
Improper communications can be the enemy of an IT initiative in an organization. Sometimes the IT group doesn’t fully understand the business needs or the business manager has specifics but fails to share them. Interpretations can be missed on both ends, and projects proceed with false assumptions and without appropriate checkpoints. Quite simply, the business person doesn’t understand IT, and the IT person doesn’t understand business.
Security: who owns IT failure?
When it comes to IT failures, companies can be most vulnerable in the area of security or cyber attacks. They may be implementing all the appropriate tools for a secure network but may not account for the thousands of logs and alerts generated by those tools. Business managers may be content that the company is utilizing up-to-date security tools, but the IT manager knows that the logs should be consistently evaluated to identify threats.
Other factors also come into play in an IT environment, including turnover of personnel, data security, lapses in information controls, and many other IT management risks. The thing to remember is that these elements aren't all under the control of the IT department. Decisions made by other functions can affect how these factors are administered and regulated.
Is there joint accountability in an IT failure?
Who should be held responsible for an IT failure? The CIO? The business user? There are as many answers as there are possible scenarios, but the answer usually falls to joint accountability. Any IT initiative is a team effort between the end user and the IT department. It is critical that senior management view it from this perspective as well, and encourage better communication and deliverables.
What is the role of the CIO in an IT failure?
The CIO should not only focus on the technology factors when a project fails, but also the human and interpersonal issues related to it. Being able to take a bird's-eye view of all aspects of an IT project is the strong suit of a CIO who has the authority to take risks, as well as course-correct when necessary. The role of a CIO is not for the faint of heart, but a tactful professional who can appreciate the strategic objectives of the business and the goals of the IT department is a highly valued asset.
There are infamous stories about businesses rebounding from IT failures that could have had catastrophic consequences if not for the quick thinking and cool heads of savvy IT managers. But for every heroic story you hear about, there are many more that never get told due to the sensitivity of the subject and the vulnerability of the businesses that manage them.
In hindsight, these companies probably thought they had the right people and processes in place, but one factor was all it took for the project to ride off the rails. They would also tell you that better communications, clearer deliverables and shared responsibility will be their drivers moving forward on new IT initiatives.
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