Inovus Intelligence - Insights on IT Alignment                            April 2016

Considerations for Major Systems Acquisition 

Major systems acquisition requires an organization to consider a host of questions about its own nature and needs. In most cases, an organization will begin by asking if this acquisition is being considered for the right reasons and in a way that accounts for its unique circumstances. Once the organization determines why a particular type of system is appropriate, it can write a project charter outlining the goals, objectives, and outcomes of the overall initiative, and then identify the specific needs a vendor must address.

Through rigorous initial requirements development, the organization should be able to express clearly and completely what it needs, and the quality and characteristics of needs satisfaction. Looking at its platform ownership strategy, the organization must decide what type of solution will serve it best. Further questions should address the degree and purpose of interoperability with other systems, as well as the level of incompatibility that can be tolerated. 

The organization also must evaluate the extent to which its IT department is prepared to facilitate an implementation. Often a delicate subject, this readiness should be explored in terms of the technological maturity of the IT organization, its IT identity, and the historic culture, posture, or perception of the IT department as a support organization. Factoring in readiness, core competencies, and cost, the organization typically will codify responsibility — internal and/or external — for support services.

The knowledge gained through these early steps makes it possible to discriminate and determine which vendors have the potential to provide the desired system. As the organization refines a group of potential vendors, each vendor presents responses to written requirements and performs actual product demonstrations. Key stakeholders within the organization can use qualitative and quantitative assessment to narrow the field to just two or three contenders that will receive an RFP.

At this point, factors such as performance, implementation criteria, costs, and guarantees come under consideration in a stage that resembles contract negotiation. Following this stage, the organization can create a program for project management, project coordination, quality management, and enterprise architecture. In short, an outline for implementation.

With these elements in place, many organizations will develop a project plan for fulfillment and scheduling. First, however, it is essential to undertake solution architecting, guided by the project charter. Frequently overlooked, this step defines the high-level project scope; the components required by the project vision and strategy, as well as by function; and an overall agreement linked to a visually depicted and verbally articulated common vision. By clarifying needs and expectations, this step yields a better understanding of requirements and can prevent painful and costly realizations in the midst of implementation.

Because implementation itself will demand organizational change, organizational change readiness assessment is also a critical part of major systems acquisition. Managing change, as it relates to all aspects of success outcome, includes a legal strategy, information technology positioning, business process re-engineering, and organizational change management. These are essential elements of an overall acquisition success strategy.    

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