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IT Challenge: Setting Priorities

The Challenge: Figuring out which project to tackle first is no easy task for IT executives.

Communication is Key

Levine says making sure everyone is communicating during a project helps avoid trouble. "You have to deliver on what you said you would," he notes, and if the communication lines are open during the life of the project then "delivery is just a normal event. If you lock yourself up for two years ... you can bet you're in trouble."

Yale says one of the key decisions IT managers will make during the life of a project is selecting who will work on the technology and who will provide input from the business end.

As well, Sareen says budgeting and forecasting are a must, since it not only allows you to manage existing technology resources but also indicates the demand on future resources. "We have a pretty good budgeting and forecasting system. It gives us a window on all our assets," including leases that are coming due on hardware.

Care must also be taken with how far IT managers push the technology envelope. For Yale, the bleeding-edge versus leading-edge line is very fine. "Technologists can easily get wrapped up in the latest and greatest," he says. To avoid that his firm has established an internal think tank to look at the top 10-15 technologies and where they might be five years from now.

As well, Vanguard does extensive testing and works with the technology in labs seeking feedback from across the organization before adopting new technologies. It boils down to will it bring value to the organization.

For Sareen, it depends on what impact the bleeding-edge technology would have on customers. "If the bleeding-edge technology risk is low to customers, we would probably go with that. We would be more cautious in deploying it."

Levine, however, has a slightly different view of the leading/bleeding-edge question. "I think if you only focus on technology, you're probably already in trouble. From a business standpoint, it's easy to decide how far you'll want to go in pushing technologies." That hinges on the value technology brings to the operations and issues like improving customer service, reducing inefficiencies or helping to grow revenues.

"We're successful at E*Trade because we focus on the customer." When a firm does that, says Levine, "It makes it much easier to see if we are delivering to the customer what the customer wants."

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