Business Impact Through Software
When planning to leverage technology or software in a business or in the process of building software, a lot of emphasis is placed on complete feature list creation, cost reduction, timely project completion, and high software quality. There is very less thought given to understanding how to use the software, post completion, for creating business impact. Our experience with clients from diverse industries, background and sizes show that that even if the objectives of feature comprehensiveness, cost optimization, faster delivery and high quality are achieved, the software is not able to run in production for more than 6 months. We call this the infant mortality of software. The primary cause of this infant mortality is not having a clear plan on how to use software once deployed in production. This aspect is often ignored or trivialized by clients in the overall plan for software building, leading to project disasters.
For us the experience of infant mortality of software was little perturbing and so we started digging for finding an approach for software to play a central role in business. Our journey led us to some very interesting findings. We discovered that generating impact through software is dependent on using the software for business activities and operations in a way that it lends a competitive advantage to the business. Also, the detail plan to use the software in business activities should be conceptualized and clearly laid out during the process of building the software. In other words, the objective of a software projects should be to gain competitive advantage for the business using software. If this is attained then software will be regenerative, self-feeding and evolving to cater to growing business needs. The purpose of this article is to understand the deeper principles of software building and demystify how software can contribute to the business impact.
Circle of Influence of Software
In software building the technical team controls the software project execution by managing the development time, cost and quality. The business team, on the other hand, influence the value generated by the software, by focusing on circle of influence of software. The circle of influence of a software are all the factors help convert a software from a cost center to a profit center and drives its ROI. These factors are enablers for value creation through the software.
The factors inside the circle of influence of a software are enumerated below:
- Business Principles Centricity – Instead of being merely functional, the software should focus on the central principles of business, by creating explicit model around it. This will help create very high leverage
- Business Impact Analysis – One of the biggest challenges of a software project is to measure the outcome. It is necessary to upfront identify all business activities and process where software will create an impact, in order to stay on track, long term. Once this identified such impacts should be captured as meaningful metrics which, can be tracked and measured.
- Expansion Of Core – Usually the software projects start with a long list of functional features. Our understanding is that not all parts of a software are equally important. There is a high impacting core part and lesser critical supporting part. In order to reduce the project risk and maximize impact it is necessary to concentrate all efforts around the high significance core part and deprioritize the non-core or supporting parts.
- Simple Software Model – During software building the business team provide the requirement using business terminology and definitions while the technical team is more focused on the technical representation of the requirement. So, there is no common language in which requirement is discussed leading to lot of gap in understanding of impact of software. To overcome this, express the software as a model, which then becomes the basis for common language between business and technical team.
- Being Data Driven – Often the business team begins a software project by creating a long list of business requirements without evaluating their impact. Such gut driven or intuition driven development increases the risk of failure of software. It is very necessary to initially release the software by focusing on the critical core part. Then slowly evolve and grow the software through better and informed decision making by tracking, monitoring and analyzing software usage data.
- Long Term Vision – Business stakeholders often expect that software building is an one-time activity which will lead to automatic creation of impact. In reality, software requires continuous nurturing, validation and alignment. Business users must therefore change their mindset of looking at software as long term activities with an evolution roadmap.
- Strong Engineering Focus – As the system usage increases, new non-functional requirements such as high performance and availability becomes critical. These are often not in the purview of business users, who believe that there should not be any expenses of a software once it is developed. Business stakeholders need to be mindful that engineering aspects such as hardware, architecture and security plays a significant role for continuity of software and its lasting impact. These areas will invite more attention and expenditure as the usage of the system increases in production.
- Building Digital Culture – Software cannot be effective, if it is not adopted by users, for doing business activities or operations. Often, this happens because of lack of proper understanding of technology by the business user. Therefore, it is imperative to foster and organization culture that revolves around technology understanding and savviness.
In the last five decades, a lot has been written and said about successful execution of software projects. Most of it is lost in the technical mumbo jumbo used or is confined to the understanding of expert IT practitioners. To a software user, or a business leader wanting to leverage software, the art of software still remains a mystery. We call it an art because there is a lot of creativity involved in applying the software techniques and methods to real world problems. The circle of influence provides a great overview for demystifying the art of applying software to make business impact.