MT Expert: IT failures

What can small companies learn from big IT failures?

Last Updated: 09 Jul 2013

In recent months you’ve probably read a lot about high-profile IT project failures (take the row over the new NHS IT system). But to be fair to the IT industry, most of these projects fail not for technology reasons, but for people reasons – such as a lack of IT voice in the boardroom. And if you wait until you’re a big company before you address this, you’re probably going to be too late...

These IT failures are inevitably ‘big ticket’ and thus associated with large organisations. Invariably these organisations evolved during a period when IT was not considered as central to their business – and embracing IT in the latter stages of their growth has naturally proved problematic. Attempting to fold the organisation around a major investment in IT will be fraught with issues: business processes will need re-engineering, users will need training, business heads will be forced to share information with their internal rivals. These are just some of the factors that conspire to bring about IT failure on a grand scale.

Small organisations are advised to take note. Most entrepreneurs today tend to be very tech-savvy compared to their forefathers. Technology gadgets and web-based applications have made IT adoption easy for non-technologists. But that in itself does not position your organisation to maximise its return on your IT investment as your organisation grows.

The lessons to be learnt from mature organisations include:
- A lack of IT voice in the boardroom will limit the value gained from IT to cost management at best. Innovation through IT will not happen if your IT manager reports into your CFO.
- The boardroom IT representative needs to be business-focused (profit and loss, governance and legality), rather than technology-focused (servers, programming languages and firewalls).
- Ensure that users understand IT enough to drive your IT function to deliver maximum business value.
- Reward/acknowledge your best technologists as you would reward your top sales guys.
- Don’t recruit technologists with poor business/social skills. They are barriers to communication and a major cause of trust breakdown between your user and IT communities.

It is much easier to address all this in your early growth stage than to try to reverse-engineer it into a mature organisation. Given how IT-centric most organisations are these days, those that get this right quickest will gain the biggest competitive advantage from their investment in IT.


Ade McCormack is founder of Auridian (, which helps organisations improve the business return on their IT investment. He is an FT columnist and author of the acclaimed books ‘IT Demystified’ and ‘The IT Value Stack’. Subscribe to his blog at

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