Prioritizing tech projects: How managers make a short list of long demands

Snowed under with requests for mobile, social and analytics apps, IT finds itself juggling priorities to give the business what it wants -- now.

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Since resources aren't infinite, he says, IT management needs to recast its role to become more of a broker of IT services, working in concert with the business side to understand key priorities and function as an enabler, not a bottleneck to new technology deployment.

For example, rather than shooting down a request for a mobile application over security concerns -- or green-lighting another simply because someone thinks it's cool -- Cearley says it is IT's responsibility to help the business understand core risks and highlight the technologies available to help mitigate those risks.

"Being proactive means helping the business understand how new technologies like mobile can impact the business," he explains. "Governance cannot be the mechanism to say no. Governance needs to be the mechanism to help direct and support the requirements of the business."

It's a directive Aspen Skiing Co.'s Major is taking to heart. With an onslaught of personal devices showing up at work and near universal demand among employees for mobile apps that can support guest services like ticketing and ski rentals, Major put together an executive steering committee to which he introduces new technologies and presents case study examples, encouraging feedback and collaboration to get the creative juices flowing.

Once ideas start to percolate, Major enlists help from a different management focus group, this one charged with finding practical business applications for those big ideas using traditional financial tools to determine ROI.

"There are no such thing as fake dollars in a company -- everything costs money, and especially in this financial climate, things need to be scrutinized," Major says. "You have to apply whatever tools are in your financial quiver" to justify or deny new proposals.

So rather than signing off on a virtual desktop client that would have allowed Aspen's enterprise apps to run on a mobile platform -- but needed to be developed from scratch -- the management focus group instead suggested a handful of specific ticketing, rental, retail and human resources applications that could run on employee-owned devices without the high costs and labor associated with mobile development.

Taking stock of the project portfolio

In addition to involving business directly in the prioritization process, Major is kicking off a new project portfolio management strategy to rein in what he says is an unsustainable number of projects in the IT pipeline.

Working with a strategic group of six representatives evenly split between IT and finance, the team is conducting interviews with senior staff members from all areas of the business to identify all current and requested IT projects -- anything as complex as a new business intelligence system to something as simple as an order for a new mouse.

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