Agents of Change

What makes an IT project a success? Arriving on time and under budget? Showing a measurable return on investment? Delivering value to the business?

If you're answering "All of the above," few would argue with you. Those are classic, comforting measures of success. Business school cliches. But in the real world, IT projects are often as individual and quirky as the companies they serve.

You'll see what I mean as you read through our Premier 100 IT Leaders Best in Class supplement, in this issue following page 20. We created this awards program within our annual Premier 100 conference for those IT leaders whose thoughtful, innovative use of technology made a real difference to their businesses. The 10 winners hail from industries as diverse as retailing, manufacturing, commodities trading and transportation.

What did our Best in Class projects have in common? They didn't necessarily use leading-edge technologies or wrap up strictly on time and under budget (although some did). They didn't all involve jazzy Web commerce initiatives or measurable ROIs (although some did). But these projects were all ultimately agents of change in the way business was done.

At Burlington Coat Factory, for example, CIO Mike Prince took a calculated and pioneering gamble that an open-source operating system was enterprise-ready. He rolled out Linux systems to 250 stores, saving money, improving remote administration and providing a crash-free operating environment. At office supplier Staples, Chief Technology Officer Mike Ragunas took a gamble of a different sort and pulled off an arduous integration of legacy back-office systems with Web shopping capabilities at in-store kiosks. That enabled a multichannel approach to customers in any of Staples' 1,100 retail stores - and multichannel shoppers spend more money.

For GFInet, a New York-based online trading services company, the award-winning IT project boosted transaction volumes by as much as 30%. But the real change came about in the thinking of the tradition-bound traders, who prefer the telephone to a computer keyboard. Once they saw that technology could handle simpler transactions while freeing them up to concentrate on more complex, profitable trades, CIO Russ Lewis became one of the good guys.

Effectively dealing with resistance to change was the background story in many of these successful IT projects. At Muscatine, Iowa-based manufacturer HON Industries, CIO Malcolm Fields kept his legacy systems replacement on track despite a merger shake-up, a CEO switch and a lot of foot-dragging from employees. "Never underestimate the difficulty" of changing the way people think, he cautions.

Some of our Best in Class winners had their projects wrapped in a matter of months, while others took years. At Lenox Collections, Vice President of IT Bob Palmer rejected the notion of hiring high-priced consultants for a Web site update project, leveraged in-house talent and got the job done in less than six months. On a much larger scale, FedEx CIO Rob Carter took three years to complete an international IT project that made global shipping so much easier for small to midsize businesses that some 70,000 customers have already signed up.

Successful technology projects are as individual as fingerprints, leaving us with no single blueprint. But in the end, they deliver on the promise of change. So as you read the stories behind our Best in Class project winners, watch for ideas you can apply to your own business. Then start thinking like an agent of change.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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