Editorial: July 2004

By Edward H. Baker  |  Posted 07-01-2004

Here's a project for you: Take a look at the graphic (To download graphic click here). It's a wiring diagram of the planned "common-use" system being installed at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. The first phase of the project, the newly renovated Terminal 1, connects 250 check-in counters, 50 express check-in kiosks, 40 VoIP phones for passenger information, 450 flight and baggage displays, 300 message boards and 9,700 directional signs. Like the shared-services architecture that's grown increasingly popular among corporate IT departments, the network provides a built-in infrastructure for the 57 airlines that fly into Pearson each day. By 2008, writes technology journalist Dan Briody, when the $4.4 billion renovation of the entire airport is finished, the 67,000 passengers who pass through Pearson each day will be able to move from gate to gate, terminal to terminal, and airline to airline, far more efficiently and flexibly than they do now.

Why did Jim Burke, vice president of IT&T at the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, spring for the hundreds of flat-panel monitors scattered throughout the terminal rather than for far less expensive CRT displays? "When you're buying as much technology as we have, you'd be amazed at the deals you can get," he notes drily.

Ultimately, however, Burke dismisses the pre-eminence of the technology decisions that went into his project: "This is a business decision, and technology is simply an enabler." That's a critical distinction, and it's reiterated strongly in this month's research survey on project management. More than a third of CIOs concede that their companies are not very disciplined about setting and sticking to their project priorities; just under a third say the necessary business and IT stakeholders are not adequately involved in setting priorities. That helps explain why more than a third of all projects aren't completed on time, or within budget, and why 13 percent never meet their intended business and technology goals.

Projects, of course, are what IT is all about. And some projects, sooner or later, will go awry. Can they be rescued? Yes, but only by recognizing the early signs of trouble. This month's Whiteboard, written by Daryl Conner and Linda Hoopes of strategy execution consultants Conner Partners, focuses on identifying the symptoms of troubled projects—whether the cause be apathy, confusion, overload, resistance or other issues—and then suggests solutions befitting each cause. As it turns out, the problems, and the solutions, invariably lie with the people, not the technology. But you probably already knew that.