Bad news: The organization you work for no longer has any IT projects. You can go home now.
It's true, except for the you-can-go-home-now part -- and the bad-news part. You can't go home now, and the fact that more and more companies have figured there are no IT projects is instead very good news.
[ Also on InfoWorld.com: Get Bob Lewis's continuing IT management wisdom in his Advice Line blog and newsletter. | Find out why running IT as a business is a train wreck waiting to happen. ]
There are no IT projects because every project is about improving the business. Otherwise, what's the point? Delivering new software that keeps everything the same simply won't provide much of a return.
IT projects deliver software. Turning it into business benefits is someone else's problem, starting with what constitutes "business benefits." There are only three uses any project can contribute to: revenue, cost, and risk.
Yes, it's that simple. If the sponsor can't explain how revenue will go up, costs will go down, or risks will decrease because of the project, it should go away. There are, after all, plenty of other good ideas floating around that contribute to one or more of the big three, waiting to get the go-ahead.
What's that, you say? How about projects that improve customer service? We all know customer service is a good thing. Shouldn't the company invest in it?
Answer: It depends on the company. Companies don't do good customer service because they're fine, moral, upstanding members of society. Instead, they do it well because customers will come back and perhaps bring their friends. If customers return, the cost of sales will dip because the expense of persuading an existing customer to stay is, according to most estimates, between one-fifth and one-tenth the cost of acquiring a new customer from scratch. If customers bring their friends with them, revenue will increase.
Better customer service can improve the risk picture as well, because every customer who likes you is one fewer user likely to start a your-company-sucks campaign on Facebook.
All of this makes a compelling case for investing in customer service -- for some companies.
But take a company you might have heard of: eBay. From what I hear, eBay makes a tidy profit. It does a lot of business. It has one other fascinating characteristic: No matter how hard you search its website, you won't find a telephone number to call if you're having a problem.