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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The projects are then categorized to find opportunities for reuse and optimized licensing arrangements. "The idea is to see at a high level what we're doing, find out where we want to be in 18 months, and then categorize projects using man hours, costs, risks and priorities," Major says. "If we can distill out of the list the top five or 10 projects, we can present those to executive leadership and get decisions about funding."

Developing apps in a new way

At Catalina Marketing, new mobile apps and business intelligence projects are so central to the corporate charter that business functions are eager to work in step with IT to lobby top management for support.

As a result, Catalina's 250-person IT department has essentially been given a blank check to bring in the resources that it needs to get the job done, "and there is no argument moving [other projects] down the hierarchy list," explains Eric Williams, former CIO at the company, which provides promotions and marketing services to clients in the retail and health care industries.

"Sales teams in the different business units have made it clear to the CEO this is where we need to be," says Williams, who retired last December.

The high level of involvement from business stakeholders has also spurred IT to rethink its development process, moving from a very structured, waterfall method to a more ad hoc approach where IT teams up with marketing or business folks to quickly build out a mobile app or launch a business analytics program -- sometimes in a matter of days rather than weeks or even months.

"Business people and the marketing team are so wanting this technology, they are willing to work with developers, literally sitting at the desk with them throughout the day answering questions," Williams says. "It's much more cohesive integration of product development than I've seen in the past."

Williams admits there has been a ramp up to the new, more agile approach and that the team is doing a bit of on-the-fly learning as it takes on mobile app development. Yet even with these adjustments, Williams says programmers been able to field a steady stream of mobile and business intelligence projects in a timely fashion.

Soliciting a wide range of input

Northern Kentucky University has also adjusted its prioritization process, moving to a more open system where input is solicited from advisory committees made up of faculty, students and staff members, according to Timothy Ferguson, associate provost for Information Technology and the university's CIO.

"Previously, we took a more traditional IT perspective and worked through management to get priorities approved and get funding as needed," he explains. "Now, with the impact of things like social media and mobile so widespread, we're listening more to end user demands and are less worried about back-office [computing] as we go through the prioritization process."

When it comes time to actually develop new mobile and social media projects, Williams has access to a unique resource: students in the university's information technology program who were bred on these new technologies. "They've grown up with this technology, they are connected, and this is the way they've always worked," explains Ferguson.

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