Nearly half of IT projects are killed off early

43.3 percent of corporates surveyed admitted to pulling the plug on an IT project prior to full implementation

Nearly half of all IT projects get killed off before they're even completed, according to a survey conducted by the Information Systems Audit Control Association.

ISACA, an international organization with more than 75,000 members in 160, focuses on the governance of technology within corporate enterprises, and released the survey results at a recent conference in Las Vegas. Marios Damianides, a past international president of ISACA and the IT Governance Institute, said he was surprised that 43.3 percent of those surveyed admitted to pulling the plug on an IT project prior to full implementation. "I did not expect the numbers to be so big," he said.

Close to 30 percent of those surveyed said they killed off an IT project because business needs had changed. About a quarter said the project was not delivering results as expected. Damianides took this as a sign of maturation in the process of approving projects.

"The heartening thing is the fact that there is some governance in place," said Damianides, who is also an executive with Ernst & Young. "People are saying, 'Hold on a second, maybe we're not getting what we should. It's all good, because there are good decisions and good criteria for making them."

At the lower end of the scale, 14.4 percent said IT projects had ended because they were no longer a priority, while budget constraints ranked at a mere 13.2 percent. Only 6.6 percent said they had ended an IT project because it did not support the business strategy.

"What these statistics mean is there is alignment up front, meaning the decision-making process works well," Damianides said. "The learnings from the statistics are that there should be a more robust scorecard built ahead of time. You have to have goals that are immediate or project-focused, that allow you to make decisions on (whether to) stop or go."

Andrew Hughes, principal of Sierra Systems Consultants and a vice-president of local Canadian ISACA chapter, said the survey findings are a good reflection of where things tend to go wrong at the project delivery level.

"You have to be focused on discovering what the actual requirements are, as opposed to whatever the initial statements are and then doing the change management," he said. "Most the organizations find it difficult to express requirements in a way that can be delivered on. Part of the project management exercise to get that change scoped in."

ISACA and the IT Governance Institute often suggest managing projects by using governance frameworks such as Control Objectives for Business and Information Technology, or COBIT. A more recent set of guidelines, Val IT, offers practical approaches to delivering value on IT projects.

Damianides said Val IT is already being used at big companies and allows them to catch potential problems within IT projects before they start or as they progress.

"You don't need to kill the project if it's not going to deliver what you thought it was going to deliver," he said. "The issue is, do you change it, modify it, invest more in it?"

ISACA conducted the survey by e-mail and based the results on 386 responses. The results are considered accurate plus or minus five percent, 19 times out of 20.