Thoughts from the Road

Hope versus Reality: Delivering IT Solutions

After over nearly two decades in and around health plan IT, I’m routinely puzzled by a repeated phenomenon that reminds me of my father’s friend, who I met as a kid back in the early 80s.

This guy loved cars. He had a pretty sweet collection – a couple late 60s Mercedes 320/380SLs, as well as a 1977 Lotus Esprit and a DeLorean (before “Back to the Future” made it famous). He loved showing them off in his beautiful windowed garage.

But here’s the irony – when he actually needed to get somewhere, he drove his Jeep Wrangler. Despite his love for his beautiful mechanical marvels, he realized he couldn’t count on those as reliable transportation. They sure looked good sitting there, though.

This story strikes me as similar to buying an IT solution. There’s a tendency to get caught up in the features and functionality that promise amazing ROI but ignore what it takes to make them a reality.

When it comes time to implement, the project becomes more about non-functional requirements and capabilities – configurability, scalability, and dependability. So without the focus on delivery, projects end up being late and way over budget or even parked in a permanent garage.

The sad part is that, often, references hint that things might not go all that well. “It took awhile, but we got there.” “I guess that’s just how it goes.” “It was a painful experience, but we’re there.”

So why do we ignore the warning signs? Maybe it’s belief in team and a bit of hubris. Maybe it’s just natural optimism.

But here’s what I think: To achieve great value and ROI, we need to include delivery reliability as a key criterion – maybe the top criterion – in addition to features and function. Because, let’s face it, when an implementation fails, and the investment balloons to 2-3X the anticipated amount (when you factor operational and regulatory costs), there’s not enough “R” to make it work. Get the first win and build iteratively from there.

Yes, the idea of elevating delivery confidence to a higher level than feature/functionality during the evaluation process may sound crazy. But by the clichéd definition of insanity, what we’re doing is nuts. Of course, any solution needs to solve the problem and provide a future growth path. But what use is the grand vision if it doesn’t deliver results? Or at least a DeLorean ride back to 1955?

What has been your experience implementing IT solutions? Did the functionality work as promised or did the project go south? I’d love to hear your thoughts.