Tips On Avoiding The Dumb IT Decision Hall of Fame

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Candidate No. 1 for miserable IT Decision by a CU manager: Launching wireless banking service that two years after launch had 27 member users.

Candidate No. 2 for miserable IT decision: Going whole hog for the OS/2 (written by Entry Systems Division and Microsoft) in the early 1990s. What happened: The IT staff had to rip out OS/2 after Microsoft Windows became endemic.

What strategies can a credit union employ to guard against becoming candidate No. 3? According to David Trepp, senior VP-technology with the Eugene, Ore.-based InfoGroup Northwest, the answer lies in the "PPT" mantra, the "what-if game" and a decision matrix.

Advice From A Propeller-Head

The confessed "propeller-head" urged an audience of about 20 credit union IT managers at the CUNA Technology Council's meeting here to examine their IT goals against organizational goals, establish leadership and advocates, and embrace simplicity. His remarks were offered during a session entitled, "Making IT Decisions and Living With Them."

Chanting "PPT"-People, Process and Technology-during every stage of planning and deployment can remind managers to identify key players' thoughts and feelings, emphasize ongoing training and eliminate unknowns, or "narrow the ignorance gap," Trepp said.

The management team should be diverse, Trepp said. "Don't just assign the project evangelist or lead engineer to be your project manager. There needs to be an objective third party who is responsible for milestones."

PPT should also be applied to risk assessment, Trepp added. Play the "what-if game," he said, wherein PPT risks are prioritized according to their effect and probability.

In addition, IT managers can benefit from a simple decision matrix, Trepp said. Applications under consideration can be compared in a grid against technology issues, such as compatibility and security.

Beware the budget, Trepp continued. Looking beyond fixed costs to ongoing, operational costs will help keep IT managers out of hot water. Furthermore, consider the "costs that come when you don't do anything," or opportunity costs, he said.

Finally, during deployment, make a paper trail. "Allocate enough time for thorough documentation. If someone has to go back and do it later, it's going to be much harder."

The potential for an IT decision to be a miserable IT decision is enhanced by the unique problems inherent to IT systems, Trepp explained. "Technologies are immature, they're incompatible with what you already have in place, they're complex and they may not have business relevance."

Systems also fail because of poor marketing, he continued, or because they are shunned by the development community.

Decision Theory

Trepp threw in a little decision theory to explain why senior management might deep-six an IT manager's proposal. "People often reject good ideas because somebody else thought of it."

A session participant offered a strategic rejoinder for senior management: "Make your boss think that he came up with the idea-you can even argue with him against it."

InfoGroup, founded in 1983, integrates IS security, delivery, IP telephony, networking and staffing.

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