December 08, 2004, 2:01 PM — When software projects go bad, the results can be disastrous. Every few months, a new horror story pops into the headlines -- like Hewlett-Packard Co.'s recent, flawed SAP deployment. The company had done dozens of smooth ERP (enterprise resource planning) migration projects, but when its latest ran into problems, the cascading disruptions contributed to HP missing its third-quarter financial projections.
A new study from the Delphi Group suggests that a significant part of the problem in tackling major IT projects lies not in the software itself, but in the business processes surrounding the deployment. Seventy percent of the respondents to an ongoing Delphi survey said they consider capturing and documenting business requirements a difficult process -- and more than 60 percent said their organization has trouble implementing changes to its processes and policies.
"In this survey, what was really notable was the very definitive responses," said study author Nathaniel Palmer, chief analyst at Delphi (a unit of Perot Systems Corp.) "Respondents were very explicit in identifying problem areas, like capturing business requirements. That's something that you'd think should be a core competency, but respondents overwhelmingly said they struggle with it."
More than 75 percent of Delphi's respondents said their requirements data resides in a number of separate sources, and close to 90 percent said incomplete definition or capture of business requirements is at least a moderate problem in their organization.
Those findings resonate with John Oliveira, the director of operations for Horizon Casualty Services Inc., a Newark, New Jersey provider of insurance services such as claims processing and bill payment.
Last year, Oliveira confronted the problem of reducing the resources required for his organization's heavily manual processing system, which involved human handling of every bill that came through. Oliveira's first thought was that his IT group would need to rewrite and improve its homegrown bill processing application. But as he began investigating options, he connected with BPM (business process management) software vendor RulesPower Inc. -- and found that what he'd assumed was an applications problem was actually a business processes problem.
"We had to really change the way we think about things," Oliveira said. "It was a significant cultural change in our company to come to grips with: How do you identify the business requirements? How do you document them? How do you use them most effectively in an automated solution?"