In an earlier post I talked about the first of two themes in a paper entitled Mastering the Three Worlds of Information Technology written by Andrew McAfee . This is in the online version of the Harvard Business Review which is providing free access (at least for now). The 2 themes are:
- Non-IT management is critical to the successful implementation of projects
- He presents 3 models of IT and discusses the implications for management in terms of which they should invest in and what they should to maximize returns.
Now on to the second theme. The 3 models are:
- Function IT (FIT) These are stand-alone technologies that make processes more efficient. Examples include spreadsheets and engineering design programs.
- Network IT (NIT) These are the technologies the interconnect people and allow them to communicate with each other. Examples include email and groupware.
- Enterprise IT (EIT) These are the technologies that companies use to add structure to how groups of employees or the company and their business partners interact. Examples include CRM and ERP systems.
McAfee argues that FIT and to a large extent NIT projects are usually implemented easier and more successfully the EIT projects. The reason for this is that with FIT and NIT it is often the users that select the technology and the usage is voluntary. McAfee gives the following example, "an R&D engineer can use a computer-aided design (CAD) program to improve the way he does his work without making any changes in how the rest of the department functions."
Conceptually I agree with McAfee but there are difficulties in the practical application of this. Taking his example a further step. What happens when one engineer using a CAD system hands his work off to another engineer who has selected his own FIT, another CAD system that is incompatible with the first engineer's? So, is such a system a FIT or should it be an EIT? Sometimes it starts as a FIT and evolves to an EIT. The application issues of the selection /adoption / exploitation techniques become much less clear in the real world.
By contrast McAfee states EIT projects often need top down control that require employees to accept the system but even then push-back is often strong enough to cause the project to fail. He states:
"The biggest mistake business leaders make is to underestimate resistance when they impose changes in the way people work"
By way of example, he cites a example of a hospital that set up an IT system for online ordering of prescriptions to replace handwritten orders. The advantages would be:
- instant checking of orders for harmful doses or drug interactions
- demonstrated ability that the system would reduce medication errors
The doctors complained and refused to use the system citing:
- the computer based system was slower
- the computer system was inconvenient
- the built-in error checking didn't work
As a result the new system is used in only a few departments and most doctors continue to hand write prescriptions and fax them in. He states:
"The system's champions were caught completely off guard by the doctor's reaction to the monitoring and standardization capabilities that the hospital sought"
I just have to believe that the doctor's had no problem with the project objectives and no doubt whole-heartedly endorsed them. How this was accomplished is another thing entirely. In this case it seemed to me the problem is obvious by the phrase ". . .system's champions were caught completely off guard by the doctor's reaction . . ." The problem is that the champions and the users (doctors) are two different groups. Why shouldn't they be one in the same? As McAfee goes on to state:
"The most important participants in this task are not IT specialists or consultants but business leaders from the areas affected by the new technology."
Perhaps Lyndon Johnson said it best (and in my plain way of thinking, most eloquently)
"Better to have 'em inside the tent pissin' out than outside pissin' in."
What are your thoughts?