Even with highly intelligent people working in IT, projects will continue to fail if business processes are not well defined and intimately understood, according to a 20-year IT consulting veteran.
Jed Simms, executive chairman of Capability Management, who has also worked for the likes of Boston Consulting Group, said there is a real paradox in the IT industry today.
"I used to work for a bank where we were spending millions of dollars on IT without any perceived value," Simms said.
"We have a paradox - the IT industry employs the brightest people on the planet, but repeatedly the research shows the number of projects that deliver on time on budget is around 35 percent."
Even lower is the perceived benefit of IT at a paltry 3 percent.
"The first time that was measured was in 1991 and here are we 15 years later with the same success rate," he said.
"Why only 3 percent [of perceived] successful projects?" While at Boston Consulting Group, he said, the root causes of failure were researched with the biggest single cause found to be the way the required business outcomes of a project were determined. He said there was either a lack thereof or poorly conceived requirements.
As an industry IT is making a real skill of "stuffing up" these required outcomes and business is the main culprit.
"[IT] wants to get into developing the system but business wants action and doesn't often see the requirements stage as action; therefore IT tries to guess the requirements, which is fatal."
Once the business knows the requirements for a project it works through a process of translating them into technical speak; however, Simms said because the English language is highly ambiguous people have to be quite specific about what they communicate. But there's more scope for mishaps because, "Then it's all processed by different people and can be performed offshore as well," he said. "Ask CIOs how many people in the IT [team] could give a presentation on what your company does. How can people improve a company they know nothing about?"
Simms said the process is to blame for up to 95 percent of business problems, and all too often the solutions put forward simply reinforce the symptoms. "We've got to get the business process right first [and] you've got to think of the processes all the time," he said.
"From that we can define the required business outcomes."
It's this end-to-end process visibility, and recognition of the need to keep going back to that big picture, that will help IT achieve better project outcomes. And if projects aren't run in alignment with business benefits, "we shouldn't be starting".
Offshoring, Simms said, can make things even worse.
"I worry when things go to India [and] they have no idea what company they are working for," he said. "You can have excellent processes for producing bad code."
With one third of projects "consistently" on rework - a mystery to most business people - the business learns to work around the system deficiencies and is now "dumbing down" its requirements.