Sunil Subbakrishna, president of Information Economics, an IT consulting firm, says there's also a risk that if you don't stop to properly engineer the technology, "it ends up in perpetual beta." Further, he says, while the new labs may promote business alignment and lower the risk of new projects, "the flip side is, can the solution scale once out of the lab? It might work small but face all sorts of new problems outside the lab once the project has to get bigger and roll out throughout the corporation."
To help prevent all that, ideas at Yellow are brought before a monthly meeting of the Technology Prioritization Committee, comprised of nine vice presidents, each representing a line of business within the company. Pitches must pinpoint how projects align to the company's business strategy and how well they would scale.
Usually, some 10 project proposals get presented each month. "Everyone has to build the business case for these projects," says Cheryl Pieper, Yellow Technologies' vice president of information solutions. "Does the project have to do with revenue generation? Cost savings? Cost avoidance? Customer satisfaction? Is it a mandatory regulatory project that we'd have to do, regardless?" Once that's determined, a case is made for the ROI. Those seen as having the best chance for a quick and significant payoff are tested immediately.
Projects also vary by application. For example, Yellow recently received a request to develop and then test new software that would help drivers pinpoint, at any given time, the exact loading docks they would need to use at client companies. Caddell says drivers, upon arriving at a customer's loading dock area, were losing valuable time searching for the precise dock at which to unload or pick up each shipment. "You could have hundreds of doors at a specific facility, and a shipment could come in one door and need to be loaded at a totally different wing of a company's dock facility," says Caddell. When Yellow switched recently to a business strategy that would offer customers express shipping, that kind of haphazard searching was no longer acceptable, Caddell says. The result? "This system helps move the shipment to the right dock so we can load it onto the correct trailer, and so that it actually ends up in the right location faster," he says. The projected benefit? A savings of hundreds of hours of time and thousands of dollars per month in payroll and logistics costs, Caddell says.
In most cases, the key to project success is gettingand keepingIT and business leaders aligned around common business goals. Most IT labs are places where such teamwork is not only encouraged, it's mandatory.
Similar to the lab at Yellow Technologies, projects at Bell's exCITE! are first nominated by an executive, business unit or individual employee and evaluated by a team that includes business and technology managers. Once given the go-ahead by that alignment team, all projects are developed under strict guidelines. Business-side staffers who stand the most to gain by the new technology must work full-time on development. This can sometimes be a source of conflict, Roman says, because project nominees may not realize the commitment involved. "They can't just dedicate an hour or two a day or week to the project," says Roman. "Once they're on board, they're on board full-time."
Other people, whether systems analysts, database engineers, designers or developers, also must be committed. "Our goals are simple," says Roman. "Cut the time of development on anything we run through the center in half, and reduce the cost of projects by 20 percent or better." Pay incentives also can help sustain IT-business cooperation on projects, "but the idea is that we're all working together to make the corporation more successful as an entire entity," Pieper says.