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Adopt this battle-tested IT implementation plan

New business initiatives live or die by the quality of their IT implementation plan. Experienced IT teams share their methodology.

You know exactly what you want from an application perspective, but you don't know how to get your information systems aligned to support the new business initiative. Where do you begin? How do you turn that idea into a functional IT implementation plan?

The IT organization has important roles and responsibilities to implement new initiatives in a disciplined, replicable and efficient fashion. These include a process for application design, iteration, development, testing and roll out, as described in the book Picasso on a Schedule and its follow-up, Managing Picasso: The Art and Science of Managing IT.

IT executives with experience introducing and managing new applications, services and business initiatives helped contribute to the IT implementation strategy presented here, along with the books' co-author Steve Wiggins and six project leaders at Companion Data Services, a data center and application consulting company, based in Columbia, S.C., that provides managed and hosting services to the health care industry.

Strategy for IT implementation of business initiatives

Develop a model and methodology for the design and release of new applications -- find a way to standardize the process. Include a product/project definition phase, an iterative development phase between stakeholders and developers, a testing/quality assurance phase, an implementation phase -- with change management mixed in so you can roll back the application if needed or introduce revisions more easily -- and an ongoing support phase.

Align your organization to implement this new rollout model. Everyone must understand the initiative's goal and know their respective roles and responsibilities. Make your expected outcome clear.

Allow for adaptive change. Get your people to understand that you want constructive adaptive change, so instill a culture of continuous improvement. Your company's market is going to change, as will your customers' needs, so your organization must implement changes on an ongoing basis. Make adaptive change a process too, i.e., if someone wants to introduce change, this is the process they need to follow.

Now, consider your information systems. Are they aligned to serve your new initiative? Ensure that you have enough processing capacity to implement it. Run your new applications on systems best suited to serve them. The data for a new mobile application, for example, might reside on an existing mainframe. Since the mobile application has to interact with that data, consider hosting the app on the mainframe for better performance. If the data for a mobile app resides on distributed servers, find available servers or add more machines to adequately process that data. Don't overlook storage capacity in the IT implementation plan. The closer storage is to the server, the faster data can be processed, but there are also sharing advantages when storage resides in a central array. Also be sure that you have the right network capacity. And, finally, put management and governance checks-and-balances in place to ensure the security and integrity of your new application.

Consider the potential scalability needs of the initiative. If it's a new mobile application, for instance, and it gains rapid acceptance, can you scale capacity to meet demand?

Enumerate the effects this initiative will have on other applications. For instance, if the new initiative makes a lot of database calls, and other applications do the same, performance may suffer. You may have to prioritize certain applications or add more data center infrastructure capacity in order to meet required service levels.

Implementation roadmap

To make your IT implementation strategy work, follow the roadmap presented by the aforementioned books. They describe:

  • A standard model for designing applications known as the IT-Organizational System Design model;
  • How external factors influence application design, such as client requirements, client business environments and industry influences;
  • How to define a mission, related guiding principles, ways to influence external environments and goal or objective articulation; and
  • How resources, organizational structure and processes need to be aligned to serve business initiatives.

When IT initiatives fall down

It is useful to look at why some initiatives fall down. The top five reasons that IT projects fail, as presented in an article written by Laddie Suk of EMC Professional Services, are: overly optimistic project budget estimates, ineffective project management, lack of vendor commitment and executive engagement, lack of business commitment and executive engagement, and going live then tuning later.

Suk's article suggests several workarounds for these problems, but if business and IT executives follow IT implementation plan recommendations (see the sidebar), they could overcome all of these problems:

The overly optimistic budget estimate. Costs can be better defined using the model and processes described previously. Each step to define and scope the application, then roll it out and support it, becomes processes for the organization. And with experience, an IT team can introduce efficiencies that actually lower the costs associated with each of these phases.

Ineffective project management. Project management becomes a known, well-defined process with structured IT initiatives. Project managers clearly understand their roles and responsibilities in the model described.

Vendor commitment and executive engagement. The IT organization should treat the hardware and software components as building blocks that enable the construction of a solution. If a vendor fails to deliver, use another building block from another supplier. As for executive engagement, a well-tuned IT organization needs less executive hand holding, though these leaders need to ensure that a given initiative is properly managed.

No business commitment or executive engagement. These problems are overcome in the first phase of definition and design. All players should clearly know the objectives, timeframes and expected outcomes with a clean IT implementation plan. Again, executive involvement lessens as the whole design release cycle becomes a standardized process.

Go live now, tune later. The pressure to rush out half-finished releases disappears if design, release and change management cycles are aligned and standardized. It becomes difficult to trip up these processes. The result: better quality solutions are released. Further, as the IT team becomes more familiar with a standardized release process, the IT manager will find creative ways to streamline processes, shortening time to market.

A successful new business initiative launch isn't magic or luck. It involves processes to guide the IT infrastructure and support through design, implementation and ongoing management phases, with all stakeholders clear on the design goals and desired outcomes.

About the author:
Joe Clabby is the president of Clabby Analytics and has more than 32 years of experience in the IT industry, with positions in marketing, research and analysis. Clabby is an expert in application reengineering services, systems and storage design, data center infrastructure and integrated service management. He has produced in-depth technical reports on various technologies, such as virtualization, provisioning, cloud computing and application design.

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