Implementing Business improvement initiatives sounds relatively straightforward, after all, to have identified the necessary improvements and then take action to implement them are considerable tasks; so isn’t that the end of the story? What more needs to be done?

Well, implementing business improvement initiatives without resolving any IT systems issues is rather like building a house without ensuring that adequate foundations are in place. Once built the house will look pretty much like any other, it will certainly look ‘fit for purpose’ but it will not take long for the science to kick in and the weight of the house frame cannot be supported indefinitely. The end result is that the house crumbles and may even collapse entirely.

And the same is true when it comes to IT systems; they are the foundations on which you build business improvement initiatives!

The Role Of IT Systems

To define IT systems as the foundations to build on does not adequately explain why they act as the foundations. So it is necessary to take a look at the nature of IT systems, to understand their true role.

IT systems help solve business problems and they help to do so very efficiently. But they can also help the business to be flexible and agile, to react to change effectively and to ensure that change is implemented with the minimum of disruption but at a speedier rate than competitors.

Within the business scene, IT systems have only one role and that is to support the business and to underpin the activities of the business. This is a fundamental issue that has to be accepted. IT systems are not designed to exist within their own right; they have a role to play and it is a supportive role. In other words, IT systems have their place, they do not act as a part of the business, but they support it.

Unresolved IT System Issues In Action

Unresolved IT systems issues can make integration of IT a nightmare, with there being no effective way of ensuring that integration can take place effectively.

Then there is the issue of implementing business improvements without integrated IT and with no flexibility within the systems, to accommodate change. Changes are introduced and sooner (rather than later) the IT systems fail to accommodate the changes and the end result is a scenario where the business improvements fail and the business itself can grin to a halt, all because the systems designed to support the business failed in their principal objective.

Perhaps one of the key issues is data integrity. Virtually all IT systems carry out their processes as derived by their business logic / system configuration. Incorrect data within the systems can result is often the result of process failure. For example – consider the humble supplier due date – when is a purchase order due delivery – if this is wrong it will incorrectly drive various processes both within the IT system and the business. Fixing a manufacturing plan outside of the system is all well and good but if the planning data is wrong the IT system will soon drive the wrong behaviour.

Hardly a desirable scenario but one that illustrates the importance of IT systems. Although they play a supporting role to the business, it is important to note that the business cannot function without first having resolved all the
IT system issues. You cannot, in today’s climate have one without the other and you can be sure that all competitors will have resolved their IT system issues, which effectively gives them a real head start on cornering the market.

No Pain: No Gain

The difficult part in resolving IT system issues is in the resolution itself. At times the process can be lengthy (certainly in the example of data integrity), can be fraught with setbacks and it can feel as if time is being lost in sorting out the ‘behind the scenes’ issues, when the business needs to go forward and improve.
But the time spent on resolving the issues will reap rewards in the longer term, simply by the improvement initiatives being successful. In a sense this makes them hard to gauge, because when the IT systems work well they simply do their job; it is only when they go wrong that we realise just how vital they are!

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