Recently, Kshemendra Paul, Chief Enterprise Architect, at the President's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) made the following critical comments to me about business cases and pilots and incorporating these in the Systems Development Life Cycle:
"I was online and came across your site -
I had two comments I wanted to share. First, I would recommend you highlight a business case step, a formal decision to move out of select/conceptual planning and into control. While this is implied, it is such a crucial step and we don't do it well - meaning that we don't force programs to work through all of the kinks in terms of putting forward a real business case (tied to strong performance architecture).
Also, this is a step that is inevitably cross boundary - either on the mission side and for sure on the funding side.
Second, I'd like to see more emphasis on smaller scale rollout or piloting. The goal of which is to prove the original business case in a limited setting. Nothing goes as planned, so another objective is to have real world data to refine the over all plan."
I completely agree with Kshemendra on the need to develop business cases and do them well for all new initiatives.
Organizations, all too often, in their zeal to get out new technologies, either skip this step altogether or do it as a "paper" (i.e. compliance) exercise. Symbolic, but wholly without intent to do due diligence and thus, without any genuine value.
Therefore, whenever we plan for new IT, we must ensure strategic business alignment, return on investment, and risk mitigation by developing and properly vetting business cases through the Enterprise Architecture and Investment Review Boards.
It's great to want to move quickly, get ahead of the pack, and gain competitive advantage by deploying new technologies quickly, but we risk doing more harm than good, by acting rashly and without adequately thinking through and documenting the proposed investment, and vetting it with the breadth and depth of organizational leadership and subject matter experts.
Secondly, as to Kshemendra's point on doing pilots to prove out the business case. This is an important part of proofing new ideas and technologies, before fully committing and investing. It's a critical element in protecting the enterprise from errant IT investments in unproven technologies, immature business plans, and the lack of ability to execute.
Pilots should be incorporated along with concept of operations, proof of concepts, and prototypes in rolling out new IT. (See my blog http://usercentricea.blogspot.com/2007/08/conops-proof-of-concepts-prototypes.html)
With both business cases and pilots for new IT projects, it's a clear case of "look before you leap." This is good business and good IT!