The Four Truths of Technology Projects

As a long-time public sector Chief Information Officer I have always focused on building community-not just building bedrooms. Several years ago, we identified three goals. The first was to lay out a plan that would bring our city onto the playing field with the top “connected” cities in the nation. The second was to create increased competition among technology providers in our metropolitan edge community. And our third goal was to position homes in the city for a future of ultra high-speed Internet, futuristic digital and high definition television and entertainment and mobile communications.
The result included one of the most comprehensive municipal technology projects in the nation. Our projects addressed a broad range of community technologies including broadband, Wi-Fi, digital television and cellular wireless. By looking at the total community technology spectrum, we are not trying to get a point product (such as Wi-Fi) to meet all our citizens’ needs. We are looking for multifaceted solutions to meet a wider range of citizens’ needs.
Over the years we developed some leading edge technologies (for their time). We were one of the first cities in Arizona to convert to a total VOIP (Voice over IP) converged communications system, we embraced key technologies such as a internally developed electronic permitting system, and we developed a state of the art data center. We developed many citizen oriented services such as providing information about their address from multiple public data sources. And we provided an extensive look into our financial systems provided by public monies. Many of our initiatives were designed to fulfill our goal of providing citizens and our employees with advanced technology and communication in the medium of their choice.
In the middle of our innovation binge (now tempered with a struggling economy), I asked myself a few rhetorical questions: Why are leading-edge projects so hard to understand? What does it take for staff and other management see the light? Why does everyone (or so it seems) fight the project? As I looked back across my 25+ years in IT some of my more innovative initiatives-large and small, successful and failed-I identified some common patterns that I call “The Four Truths.”
Truth #1: Innovation is change
Change and innovation walk on the same path. Change and innovation threaten the status quo and upset the apple cart. The American public loves innovation, except when it surfaces in their own backyards. My own staff was uneasy with some of the projects and how it might change their roles. They were fearful that a project would be thrust at them on top of their already burdensome workload. As we rolled out some of the larger projects, we started to understand how our role would be one of oversight rather than hands-on in the trenches installation. Change management would continue to be an educational process, not just from the tactical and operational aspects, but also from the strategic value that such a project would bring to the City.
Truth#2: The road will be blocked
Every innovation effort includes a series of roadblocks that attempt to keep us from our stated goals. It is too easy to listen to the naysayer’s and critics. Successful project managers are those who forge a path over, around or through the roadblocks.
Truth #3: Innovation without implementation is merely a dream
Our quest for innovation has taught me that many visionaries have great dreams, but few can bring those dreams to fruition. Some of our projects were hard to implement, but perseverance and hard work by a team of brilliant technicians led to completion. Many of the projects had to bring diverse stakeholders together and I sometimes find that keeping a project in focus and on track is harder than actually doing the project.
Truth#4: Innovation without marketing is soon be forgotten
Marketing is not just about selling a product; it’s about selling a concept. It’s about convincing stakeholders that you can see their future and that the idea will satisfy their needs and enhances their lives. As CIOs we have all seen superior products fall by the wayside because marketing was weak or ineffective or because the competitor’s marketing was superior.
Marketing must be pursued throughout the entire innovation process. You must market the idea in order to bring it to the table. Once the idea is introduced, you market to the stakeholders and customers, and then to the press and the media. After roll-out, you must continue marketing to the customers to make sure the products or services deliver on your promises. Communication of the project vision has its ups and downs. Sometimes, our senior management team had to be convinced how their departments could be impacted by the project.
When it comes to innovation, there’s one foundational trait underlying all these truths-persistence. Bertrand Russell said “No great achievement is possible without persistence.” None of the actions we are seeking to take will happen without people persisting through all of the roadblocks that life throws at us.

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