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Sponsors: Need a Plan B for Core Systems Modernization Projects?

A recent report from SMA provides an excellent outline of best practices for implementing modern core systems. As a bonus, and without explicitly saying so, the report also provides a safety net for the executive who has been appointed the project sponsor and who might find, at some point, that all is not going tickety-boo.

What’s the risk?

Core systems replacements are big projects. The 2012 Standish CHAOS Report noted that large projects’ success rate had increased two basis points to 39%.   The authors credit this improvement to executive sponsors’ commitment and skills.

Our interpretation of this is not sanguine: Assuming the sponsor has the time and resources to map out the perfect plan (hands up every one who has been in that position … what, no hands?), you still have a 60% chance of failure.

With these odds, you need a good Plan A, and a better Plan B

And this is where we see Karen Furtado’s SMA Research Brief, “Core Transformation: Top 10 Success Factors”. If you are an executive sponsor we suggest that you read it before hand, and put it in a safe place for later.

Furtado’s report does a great job of showing executive sponsors three places, and 10 indicators to help plan for the project and, in the event things go pear-shaped, diagnose where things went wrong, and what to focus on.

We’ll provide a few examples of the Plan B application under Furtado’s 3 Capability Sets: Organizational, Business, and Technical.

Example 1: Organizational Inertia

Let’s say that you are finding things getting tangled where the users have bought into changes, but are waiting for IT to finish its set up. At the same time, however, IT is waiting for the specs from the users. And, all the while, you find the designated Business Analyst is overwhelmed somewhere else.

What breaks this 3-way conundrum?

Furtado writes: “A core transformation project should not be viewed as just another IT project …people at all levels of the organization will need to participate and actively adjust to new situations, new ideas, and new goals.”

If you look around and only see IT people talking to senior business user managers, it might be time for a shake up. Perhaps you’ll find a keener who has an idea of what needs to get done and how it would look at the end.

The executive’s role? Make sure the keener knows you support her and make sure others know that she has the authority to recommend changes..

Example 2: Business Drives, IT rides

As projects go on, there can be inevitable delays, and there may be pushes from IT to:

  • Implement ‘out of the box’ solutions, with the promise that they will be customized later
  • Use the previous system’s capabilities to define what the minimum requirements are.

This can be a kiss of death when you get to describe the strategic impact of the project. Furtado has suggestions, which allow the sponsor to take a different approach:

  • Recognize that implementation is the first step of the modernization journey. This is where the executive leadership has to work overtime. But making sure that the goals of the project are clearly articulated and aligned with the overall corporate objectives, this can be powerful
  • Capitalize on modern configuration capabilities. Instead of IT designing all the screens and edits for user review, train a user to do the design.

Example 3 – Ensuring that you and the vendor are aligned with each other and with the Project’s goals

If the executive is finding finger pointing between the vendor and the project group, there is a serious risk to the project and its longer-term goals.

Furtado suggests, at the outset, one of the major criteria for vendors is that its long-term goals and vision align with your organization.   One way to test this, and foster it going forward, is to participate (with business and IT staff) actively in the vendor user group.

Your thoughts?

Core systems modernization is critical for success in todays universe. We believe executive sponsors need all the support they can get. If you have experience in this role, we’d be interested in your survival guidelines.