The majority of IT projects fail. According to research published by The Standish Group, of more than 50,000 IT projects between 1992 and 2004, only 29% were deemed successful.

By Stefan Jacobs, applications practice head at Wipro Africa Modern Application Services

This problem has not lessened – consultancies such as Forrester and McKinsey regularly note a 70% failure rate among transformation projects. So even though technology procurement and delivery is changing, why hasn’t the failure rate lessened?

It’s all about complexity. Complex projects generally have a poor success rate. ICT projects are almost always complex because they typically are a System of Systems: a combination of many different parts, the sum of which is invariably larger. A system of systems can describe any transformational environment:  solutions require integration and collaboration between many technology components, business processes and workforces.

No wonder CIOs have a headache and easily one of the hardest jobs in the business world today. Compounding matters are the loud voices in the rest of the enterprise, demanding services that match their expectations. Organisations have seen, heard and tasted the potential of digital technology, and they look toward the CIO to deliver at very short timelines. It’s no longer three years – it’s three months! They like the sound of micro-services, proofs of concepts and scalable deployments. Such terms even make digital sound easy. These are steep expectations to overcome in the face of complexity.

Complexity doesn’t go away, but its risks can be mitigated through good design, automation and experience. This is primarily why the choice of Systems Integrator (SI) has become an overruling factor for successful ICT projects in the medium and large enterprise worlds. Small businesses can usually find all they need in standard services, but the more complex an organisation, the more it needs customisation and integration of its systems. Complexity begets complexity.

Normally one would look to vendors for guidance and clarity. Yet the vendor market also has a complexity issue. The nature of modern services means that there are many combinations to create a solution. It’s not a new situation and has defined the space of SI’s  for many years. Yet the rise of choice and variability among vendor products has increased this tenfold.

Hence the importance of partnerships and alliances between vendors and systems integrators. The more familiar an SI is with vendor solutions, including those still be tested by R&D, the better they can simplify things. If the SI can draw from a deep and wide pool of experience, usually gained from staging multiple technology projects across the world, that is also an important factor. The right SI must be able to communicate with every part of the client organisation, from the highest levels down to the coalface. Finally, the SI often invests in the training and costly certification of skills – it should be able to tend to those with an international mindset, yet strive to localise those skills within its customer companies and customers.

Such criteria have long counted towards identifying a good SI and solution provider. But they are more important than ever before. Projects today are driven by customer/user experiences. They often involve platform strategies and are orientated towards services and components. And they are unique: the beauty of digital is that every organisation can have its own journey. But how to do that without reinventing the wheel depends on the right solutions partner.

In an integrated world, the successful SIs are close to vendors, customers and trends. These require more than big marketing claims. They require depth and experience beyond being a solutions middleman. The CIO who chases that requirement when selecting transformation partners can avoid the 70 percent of ICT project failures.