10 steps to improve return on investment of IT purchases

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that, very often, IT systems, once purchased, are underutilized. This can lead companies to question the ROI promised by suppliers and industry experts.

In fact, on average, only 10-20% of the full capabilities of systems are utilized by the end user.  However, rather than questioning the suppliers’ promises, we should perhaps re-examine the internal processes of implementation, maintenance and integration.

This is because the work shouldn’t end when the purchase contract has been signed. Quite the contrary; installation is just the beginning of the most important and laborious phase required to maximize the ROI from your IT systems.

Low ROI is often a result of omissions or may be down to poor qualification of the chosen IT vendor. It’s often followed by wasted investments that pass under the radar due to low levels of support and involvement from company management in the implementation process. Another barrier to realising higher ROI is strong resistance from employees, who, by nature, can be reluctant to change.

Below are ten steps to enable you and your team to extract more value from the investments in your existing enterprise systems.

1 – Improve your argument

What do you do if you know what must be done to improve the level of system utilization, but you’re unable to get approval from management?

A good part of the fault is in the delivery, as we cannot put 100% of the blame on the decision maker. You also need to know your audience to get “buy-in” from management. Structure your project and show the expected results clearly, both in terms of business benefits and financial results.

Essentially, this point is saying, “you can’t hit your target if you don’t know what it is”; a clear project plan will show what you’re trying to achieve, which helps management get behind it and also lets you see where your project is falling short.

2 – Map your processes

You can’t automate a process that is not explicitly mapped out. Trying to automate something that is in someone’s head is very close to the children’s game of “telephone,” where mistakes and misunderstandings are made as a whispered message gets passed down from person to person.

Clearly mapping the process is the beginning of the discussion on how improvements can be made, but take care to not lose your focus, which, ultimately is to extract better results from current systems.

This is an on-going process, as before the project starts we need to understand how users work so as to provide them with tools that make their current workflows easier.  If the project is complete, but only has low utilisation, we need to understand what workflows users are using instead, whether to provide better training or redesign the system.

3 – Improve the use of existing resources

Under-utilised IT systems represent a wasted resource.

With documented processes in hand, call the vendor to discuss any existing routines the system isn’t supporting, but which it may be able to, to maximise its ROI.

4 – Customise to automate

Customization is something that should be avoided as much as possible, but if you have talked to the vendor as suggested and no out-of-the-box solutions exist, now is the time to customize. The word of caution here is that the customization needs to be done in a way that enables you to continue to upgrade your systems without creating additional difficulties and costs.

Always be on the lookout for automation opportunities. Don’t create routines for users. If there are stable rules that enable the development of automated routines, automate the processes!

5 – Integrate your systems selectively

Do not integrate for the sake of integrating. Putting everything on the same system may actually be a detriment to process efficiency. Look for the best opportunities for real-time integration between the most relevant and important processes and systems.

6 - Mobilise your processes

It’s also possible to improve the usage of current systems by mobilizing processes and enabling employees access to these, through mobile devices from any location, at any time. System use can be jeopardised if employees have to return to the office to input data.

7 - Fully train your users

You’ve done everything possible to optimize usage of your current systems; do not forget to fully train your users. This issue is critical and is often not given the importance it deserves.  Remember that this isn’t only about giving users the information they need in order to use the system; they need to understand why you have ‘moved their cheese’ and buy in to the change.

8 - Bring the concept of Business Intelligence to the operational level

Many BI implementations focus only on extracting information which can be used at a strategic level. Since this has traditionally been based on outdated, archived data, the resulting intelligence has had limited use, and, as a result, BI systems have been underutilized.

The best path to make people use BI data is to provide near real-time information that can benefit employees’ day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. Setting up a dashboard using relevant KPIs to monitor team performance is a good example of using BI at the operational level.

9 - Keep your systems up to date

Do not settle. Upgrade your systems! We know that upgrading systems requires a significant amount of validation effort beforehand and the ‘cleanup’ of unexpected side effects after, but every new version brings many improvements that should be harnessed.

10 - Revisit your processes

With the previous steps done, it is time to revisit the process from step one, discuss and plan improvements.  Your business processes represent a moving target, and your systems need to aim ahead of current reality to fully meet your users’ needs.

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