We need case studies about why things go wrong – Ken Young, IT Week


Ken Young, in his piece Lies, damned lies and IT mumbo-jumbo
in today’s IT Week, bemoans the fact that case studies rarely talk about the bad things that happen in IT life.

Says Ken: "Customers love case studies, a PR person informed me recently. No doubt true, but a lot depends on how much information the studies provide, who they are about, and how sanitised they are. Who wouldn’t want to read a no-holds barred case study on EDS’s involvement with the Child Support Agency?
"

Journalists love case studies too – or rather they do like talking to real world users of technology.
And from a PR perspective, case studies that don’t just present the "everything is rosy" view of life actually have more credibility with both press and readers. As someone said to me recently, "according to all the case studies you read about in the IT Press, no IT project has ever gone over budget, been implemented late, failed to deliver on the functionality in the original brief, or caused both IT department and end users to tear their hair out in raw frustration."

So Ken’s plea for more real world case studies seems to get the thumbs up from pretty much everybody.

However, I suspect the number of "warts and all" case studies is not about to rise any time soon.

There are a number of reasons for this. And an example I was personally involved with recently perhaps illustrates this best.

We were interviewing a client’s customer for a case study. The customer company had been in a pretty bad way around 3 years ago – close to insolvency. However, with a brand new management team, new strategy and investment in technology, the company had seen a pretty remarkable turnaround. The story crying out to be written was how the management group had effectively saved the company – and how technology had played a key role.

However, they didn’t want to make any reference to this in the case study. The thinking was that they didn’t want existing customers and investors to get "spooked" by just how close the company had come to going under. Even though they hadn’t hidden any information regarding the company’s position, the thought of bringing up again the subject of "how bad things were" was too much for them in the context of a case study.

Which was a shame. On the one hand, you would have thought this kind of turnaround story would be just the kind of thing people would want to read about – and would present the current management and business in a very favourable light. However, this is one the one of the lesser known impacts of Sarb-Ox, etc – that companies will not take any kind of perceived risk with case studies, lest it comes back to haunt them (rightly or wrongly) in the future.

So, sorry Ken – looks like you may be waiting some time for your ideal case study.

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