An ICT (information and communications technology) baselining project is defined as a set of technical, operational and commercial baselines that describe current state of ICT operations across the company today. It does not reference possible future change. Baselines help guiding decision-making and execution of any subsequent ICT environment improvement, whether incremental or transformational.
This project definition excludes high-level approaches such as questionnaire-based analysis or financial analysis that may attempt to use representative data sampling or ‘budgeted’ figures. Whilst high-level approaches have their place, e.g. company divestures and some types of company acquisitions, they are insufficient for planning, designing and managing ICT environment improvement.
ICT baseline projects should not be entered into lightly; they are expensive and time intensive. A baselining exercise will require at least 6-10 weeks to achieve substantial results. Below are 10 top lessons I have learned in the past 15+ years working with a wide range of national and international clients in many industries. Of course this Top 10 list reflects personal experience, it is not exhaustive, there will be other factors relevant to your organization, however hopefully you will find the Top 10 a useful starting point.
Top 10 Lessons Learned
- Set realistic goals and have senior management drive the project.
Without strong leadership, this like most company-wide projects will fail. Personal ownership or buy-in of senior managers across your company business units and countries is also critical if you want their support to implement any subsequent project following this exercise.
- Plan how each data element maps to your expected business outcome.
Good ‘experimental design’ is critical to the final business outcome. For example, let’s assume a design hypothesis is, “we need to move from a CAPEX to OPEX model for our infrastructure spend to help sustain our growth”. In this instance, a quantification of asset spend and an analysis of asset ageing will help support or refute this statement, so collect asset spend and age data. Many baseline exercises fail to collect the right data first time, and this may ultimately, usually many months later, lead to a failure or delay in achieving the much bigger objectives behind the baselining exercise.
- Data collection is difficult.
You will not collect 100% of what you want. The Pareto Principle applies; the last 20% of the data will take 80% of the effort. Therefore make sure you have planned to handle data gaps and set expectations before starting the exercise.
- Manage baselining as a project.
This will help your peers who may be lending resources in different locations to plan, and it creates positive project behaviors (collaboration, teamwork, outcome-based activities), rather than being viewed as, ‘yet another corporate request for my time’.
- Baselining is a voyage of discovery, know your ‘Plan B’.
Often ‘Go’/’No Go’ project milestones are defined in around weeks 3 and 5. This enables managed bale-out points (and a recovery plan) if this project is really too difficult. Ultimately, enterprise-wide detailed data management is needed to optimize management of an ICT environment.
- Formal governance meetings should be held at least weekly.
This assumes a project running over a 6-10 week period. Senior management commitment from across business unit/countries is important to governance as the time-boxing and data collection outcomes will reflect upon, and impact local management. If governance meetings are held less frequently than weekly, any remedial actions will challenge the overall project time lines.
- Time-box the data collection and analysis exercise.
Time boxing prevents excessive resource use, cost blowouts and loss of project momentum. In time-boxed projects, there is a recognition that at the activity level 100% completion is not always likely. Time boxing enables the governance committee to make explicit decisions relating to activity level outcomes more easily.
- Independent facilitation of the baseline project may improve the outcome.
Specialist vendors, your current or potential providers, or outsourcing facilitators (if relevant), could be tasked with managing the baselining exercise. This may help to:
- Reduce the internal company strain on resources,
- Improve the skillset and
- Simplify the support for project outcomes (company politics)
- Local skilled staff are invaluable.
In many instances, only local staff will have the knowledge of things such as local vendor arrangements, asset locations, asset history and the critical answers to ‘why’ things are configured as they are. Placing the local ICT environment in context may be essential to optimize high-level decisions and the timing of any changes.
10. Don’t sweat the data analysis.
Identify the patterns in the data, across the company, by business units and countries. Report how the ingoing hypotheses were supported or refuted. Don’t get lost in the detail of the data and definitely don’t over do reports that no one will read!
The data set from your ICT baseline project provides the linkage and causality between the hypothesis and the eventual planning, design and operational change.
Phew! A long post. Perhaps this is a bit too much to think about, or maybe this resonates with you. Would you like to comment on the above?
Look out for our “How To” Guide to help you in planning your baseline project.