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IT’s Payback Time – Part 2: Avoiding the risks that prevent ROI realization on IT innovation

Les ViszlaiBy Les Viszlai

ROI In part 1 of this two-part series we discussed how economists use many formal models to calculate ROI (Return on Investment), TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), as well as some of the methods for determining IT Business Value and payback periods.  In this post we’ll dig into the areas that can delay or prevent you and your organization from realizing the projected benefits from this ROI activity.

It’s critical that your ROI initiative has a communication plan that clearly communicates the status, timing and risks to the ROI initiative on a regular basis.  It’s not unusual for IT organizations to spend a lot of upfront effort to get business approval to proceed with an initiative, disappear and later back pedal on why the ROI initiative failed.

Potential Risks to ROI

There are a number of risk areas that can potentially impact the realization and value of an ROI initiative.

Financial

Changes in the business may cancel/delay the ROI initiative.  The initial ROI may be based on spending money that has a longer payback period then the business is now willing to take on in the current budget reporting cycle.  

Human Resources

Describes the people component of ROI initiatives.  A lack of training or not having the right people to execute and manage the project results in project timelines that are delayed.  Additional unplanned staff costs can be incurred in order to rework or complete the initiative.  Consider adding the cost of using Professional Services firms that have the expertise to accelerate the project as part of the initial ROI calculations to avoid these often costly unplanned costs.

Legal/Governance

Requirements change due to unforeseen circumstances or new industry related compliance requirements that present themselves after project kick off, and additional resources (Technology/People/Funding) are required to complete the ROI initiative.  This additional resource requirement may wipe out any of the original ROI benefits due to unplanned delays or costs.  

Management

Priorities can simply change and management’s commitment to support and funding can be delayed or cancelled. Having a solid communication plan in place keeps the initiative on managements radar and reduces the chances that their interest will wane.

Market

Market changes and competitive pressures or new customer demand may cause management to delay or cancel the project.  Resources (people/funding) can get diverted from IT to other areas of the business.

Organization

Political infighting or parent company relationships may limit ROI benefits. There can be a dependency on the business unit to use technology/services that benefit the parent company, increasing costs at the subsidiary level and reducing the ROI benefit. For example, if the parent company institutes an accounting package that enables simplified reporting across all of its subsidiaries, the costs increase to maintain and implement this system and impacts any resource savings.

Dependencies

Reliance by the current ROI initiative on a different project or initiative is a common risk.  Key resources (people/time/money) can be tied up which can impact the projected ROI of our current initiative.

Technology

Implementation related ROI activities can be affected by chosen technology that is not compatible with an existing system (not uncommon).  Or the new technology could have limited scalability and can’t handle the current or projected system demand.  A simple example is the case of existing switches that can’t handle the new call center phone system volume, or a new cloud services provider can’t handle the volume the business is generating.

Users

ROI benefits may be based on when and how users will utilize the new capabilities.  Anything that prevents them from doing so will be a risk.  The ROI initiative should have a strong end user communication component that describes why/how/when the transition will happen, and don’t forget the end user training if its needed.

Vendors

When you engage vendors to provide critical services/technology, sometimes they won’t execute as promised or go out of business before the initiative is completed.

Keep Your Guard Up

ROI RisksBe aware of the potential risks that may impact your ROI initiative during the initial analysis phase and factor that contingency into your planning.  A strong predefined communication plan will go a long way in preventing and/or minimizing the impact of many of the potential risk areas described in this blog. I personally like the traditional high level red/yellow/green dashboards that give a snap shot of risk over time, but use whatever works best for your organization to keep these risks top of mind.

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Les Viszlai is a principal strategist with VMware Advisory Services based in Atlanta, GA.