Top 3 mistakes made by IT clients

In previous posts, I explained why software development is complicated and susceptible to errors. Subsequently, I tried to find out out why especially large governmental IT projects fail.

In this article, I point my arrows towards the clients of IT. It’s my opinion that a lot of problems in IT projects start at the client side. Clients are usually very passionate about their own business (not being IT), have all kinds of ideas about how IT should support their business, but do not put much effort in trying to acquire at least some basic knowledge of IT (‘I don’t want to understand it, just use it’).

So what does this attitude lead to? Here’s my list of top mistakes made by clients in IT projects:

Mistake number 1: Insufficient IT knowledge, no IT policy nor strategy to lead the way

This can hardly be called a mistake, rather is it a fundamental problem among many IT clients. Like I stated above, very often a client’s attitude towards IT is rather egocentric: they are interested only in what IT can do for them when they need it (short term vision), they don’t show much interest in IT itself. Fair enough, but if IT is important for your business, this attitude makes collaboration with IT suppliers very difficult. IT suppliers put effort in getting to know your business (if they’re any good), as an IT client you should also put effort in getting to know the IT business. This can be done several ways: have certain employees follow some basic IT courses, attend IT seminars, the bottom line is: get sufficient IT knowledge inside your company. Use this knowledge to be in control of your IT and IT projects (and not leave the control to your IT suppliers). Establish an IT policy or strategy, and follow it in the execution of your IT projects.
Altogether it will make the collaboration with IT suppliers much more efficient, resulting in better IT for your organization.

Mistake number 2: Make inconsistent or overly complex demands

Many IT projects start by collecting requirements. All involved departments, managers or employees are consulted, and they’re asked, what does the new system need to be like? All wishes and requirements are collected by a project manager (many times without much knowledge of system design or development), written down in a document and presented to potential IT suppliers.
The problem with this kind of ‘democratic’ collection of requirements, is that many times it lacks direction by a process analyst, system analyst or anybody else that is able to point out things like inconsistencies or overly complex requirements.
IT suppliers are usually not in the position to tell a potential client that their requirements are inconsistent or lack structure. They’d basically have to say: this is not smart, you shouldn’t do it this way. Of course, they don’t always say this, instead they say (because they want the project): OK, if you want it that way, we’ll do it that way. It’s very likely that a rather difficult project will follow, and all the activities that are needed to measure up to the complex requirements need to be paid for sooner or later. By the IT client.

Mistake number 3: Tendency towards custom made solutions

Related to the previous issue, IT clients (especially the ignorant ones) tend to go for solutions that perfectly meet their wishes. Apart from the fact that these wishes are not always valid, useful or consistent, many times they require custom made technology (or at the best customization of some standard technology). Again, in many cases this is a big mistake. Customizations are expensive, difficult to maintain, and create dependency of the IT supplier that created the customizations (in general it’s dangerous to depend on one supplier). Sooner or later (expensive) drawbacks will show up.
Especially if you don’t know much about IT, go for standard solutions that are based on proven technology and are widely used. You’ll find many IT suppliers that can help you with these kinds of solutions (so no dependency on a specific IT supplier).
A simple example is the creation of a new website. Websites nowadays are built within a CMS (Content Management System). Being a company that does not know much about IT, always go for a website based upon a widely used CMS like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal. This way you’ll have a large pool of IT suppliers that can create, maintain or extend your website. Some web design companies offer their own CMS, creating a potentially very lucrative technical dependency, because they’ll be the only ones that have knowledge of the technology behind your website.

Of course, these 3 mistakes are very much related to each other. And needless to say, IT clients make many more mistakes, but these are the ones I encounter most frequently. Other experiences? Feel free to leave a comment.