Shel Israel, co-author (with Robert Scoble) of the influential book on blogging, Naked Conversations, recently interviewed me regarding social media and IT failures. I used the interview to consolidate my views on several IT failure-related issues.
Causes of IT failure
IT failures are generally caused by management errors in human, rather than technical systems. Poor judgment, dysfunctional organizational politics, and bad planning are far more likely to cause a major project failure than a database failure, for example. The high profile failures that hit the newspapers, or that I blog about, generally arise as the culmination of many bad decisions strung together over time.
Large software implementations typically involve three parties: the customer, the software vendor, and the consulting services supplier. Considering this complexity, and the sometimes-conflicting agendas that result, the high rate of IT project failures becomes less surprising.
Social media and IT failure
To the extent social media improves an organization’s communication and decision-making abilities, it will also improve project success rates. Social media is not a magic bullet, but represents an organization’s commitment to streamline communication, share knowledge, and work more effectively as a team. These are characteristics of both healthy organizations and successful IT projects.
Shelfware and social media
[M]erely making software available does not mean users will actually adopt it.
More significantly, an organization must define “rules of engagement” that encourage users to embed social media in their day-to-day work. From this perspective, planning the diffusion of social media through an organization is little different from planning a traditional enterprise software implementation. Without proper change management, training, documentation and so on, social media becomes yet another under-utilized tool sitting on a server. The annals of IT failures are filled with cases of software that was purchased, deployed, and never fully used. Social media is not immune.
Coordinated deployments of social media across a large enterprise look and behave like any other enterprise software implementation. In both cases, IT and the business are essential partners in making the deployment successful. As with IT failures in general, the success of social media deployments depend more on human, rather than technical, systems and planning.
Social media and centralized IT power
Social media puts power into the hands of individuals and that power ultimately comes at the expense of centralized IT departments.
Strategic business computing decisions, including social media issues, should reflect the involvement of three groups: end-users, business management, and technical management.
To the extent that social media programs are business-based, meaning their core function is providing non-technical benefits to users, then sponsorship should lie in the business domain. In this respect, social media is a business initiative like any other, and should be treated as such.
On the other hand, if IT tries to interfere with new methods of communication between enterprise groups, then it will be doomed to fail. There’s virtue in going with the flow, especially when the flow is inevitable. It should be a partner in helping the enterprise adopt improved tools and work processes. For IT to succeed, it must engage users in dialog and support their desire to improve communications and information sharing.
IT / Business alignment
It’s time for IT to leave the ivory tower and become part of the decision-making culture of the business. The entire notion of IT as being somehow separate, or having independent goals from, the non-technical parts of an enterprise is absolutely ridiculous.
I don’t want to paint this as being entirely the fault of IT – many senior business executives don’t fully understand how IT processes function, nor do they completely grasp the ramifications that technical decisions can have on non-technical business strategies.