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Technology Project Selection and Management in Community Banks

Written By: Lynn Koller
Published On: July 11 2000

Lynn Koller is associated with Brintech, www.brintech.com

Beat them or love them. It matters not. Vendors bombard financial institutions with advertisements for all sorts of software and hardware, often claiming to revolutionize some aspect of banking. Some products meet and exceed expectations. Other products plainly fail to do anything of value for the bank.

To complicate the divide between good and bad, the way a bank selects, implements, and monitors a technological product significantly contributes to the final effect on the bank's environment. An auto owner may find a fantastic deal on diesel fuel, but if his car only takes unleaded gas, anything else will clog the engine. Similarly, many technical products for banks are incompatible with existing systems or simply unnecessary.

Project managers and other delegates responsible for technology in an organization should approach these projects with a clear procedure for analysis and decision-making. A strategic slant helps control indiscriminate upheavals of systems and work processes.

Each project has unique factors. A five-step process can draw a clear picture for everyone involved in the venture, and increase the likelihood of a successful outcome for the bank. They are:

  1. Start. Someone needs to recognize the need for a project, define it, and initiate the process.

  2. Plan. At this point, project managers structure a proposal that accomplishes the tasks required to conclude the project.

  3. Execute. Project managers coordinate the people and resources required to implement the plan.

  4. Supervise. During this phase, the progress of the plan is monitored and adjusted, when necessary.

  5. Finish. People need closure. A formal ending to the project brings satisfaction and a reallocation of resources.

All types of projects require these five phases of development. Because of the complexities and fluidity in the technology marketplace, certain aspects of this type of project management are more nebulous, requiring special insight and experience. Most certainly, they require management by individuals who understand the products, services, and vendors that will decisively impact the final effect of the project. Technology can raise many questions for even the most knowledgeable IT personnel.

Defining the Project

Clearly define the project. Project managers should elicit input from staff within the bank who will be affected by the proposed technology. The end users face some of the greatest daily impact, and their psychological buy-in is valuable to the bank. Project managers need to describe in detail:

  • The technology system and processes to be implemented or changed.

  • How the bank will use the application.

  • The benefit the technology will provide to the organization.

Record this information on a form standard to these projects. A lucid, unambiguous definition goes a long way toward controlling the outcome of the project.

Determining Organizational Impact

A positive impact is clearly the goal. Although that seems obvious from a step back, there is often an unavoidable, interim impact of new technology on an organization. During this time, frustration may develop for many reasons, including system glitches, lack of knowledge, and user downtime.

Project managers can mitigate the prospect of frustration by reviewing the big picture. Some changes required for a new IT component might be work process reengineering, staffing levels, training and more. The changes may initially inconvenience some departments, but are required for the eventual greater good.

Some questions to ask are:

What business processes and functions should be changed?

What resources are required to support the operation of the new technology?

  • Identify staff requirements

  • Identify the impact on current training resources.

  • Describe new hardware or use of existing hardware.

  • Describe new software or use of existing software.

  • Describe interface requirements.

  • Describe network requirements

What is the impact on the current network infrastructure, IT policies, and standards?

Can the new IT solution be applied to other areas of the bank?

Could any redundant or duplicate system be used, modified, or eliminated?

At this point, it may be determined that the project will drain resources, or perhaps, profit the organization more than previously anticipated. Either way, the evaluation helps assess whether the bank has the means to attain its goals. The final success of the project relies on the bank's ability to maintain the technology, including support, training, and maintenance.

Project Justification

Project managers can ask several questions, in conjunction with assessing the project's effect on the bank, to determine the value of the new technology. The bank's long-term strategic plan comes into play at this level (assuming that the strategic plan is up-to-date, and in line with current bank goals). The following facets of the project should be addressed:

What strategic goals does the IT project help meet?

What prioritization ranking does this project mandate in the current project schedule and use of available resources?

Describe the intangible benefits.

Describe the tangible benefits.

  • Increased revenues

  • Decreased costs

  • Revenues maintained

  • Costs avoided

Describe IT project costs.

  • Up-front hardware, software, and installation costs.

  • Ongoing vendor maintenance and support fees.

  • Ongoing internal maintenance and support costs.

Develop five-year ROI analysis and/or net present value when comparing alternatives.

This level of analysis helps management and staff gain enthusiasm for the benefits of new technology, and understand the cost in time and money involved in implementation. A common disappointment in technology projects is misconception of long-term costs and benefits. Project managers and certain members of IT personnel may thoroughly understand the functions and capabilities of a new software application, along with its total cost of ownership. At the same time, management and users may have completely different expectations. Creating a tangible document with full descriptions of the outlined information may help avoid these adverse situations.

Risk Assessment

The risk factors involved in a technology project should be carefully assessed. The bank can minimize the danger by carefully assessing it, and forsaking a project that provides evidence of unacceptable risk. Project managers should assess the risk of:

  • Failing to implement the project on time

  • Not implementing the system

  • Foregoing the intangible benefits

  • Foregoing the tangible benefits

  • Exceeding estimated project costs

The caution used at this level will considerably help the bank avoid unacceptable conditions. The flip side of risk is security. Project managers can secure the bank's technological investment by prudent inquiry into all conceivable outcomes of the project.

And Finally . . .

A bank can use technology to grow. More than that, technology oils the wheels of progress in some areas. But, an organization cannot take on everything presented to it. When a decision is made to examine new systems and products, the project should have a dedicated system of management and prioritization. This system requires that its participants possess knowledge, insight, and a determination to use a uniform project management methodology. The level of thoroughness and competence that project managers use to manage a project will mold the ultimate result for the bank.

The Author

Lynn Koller is a writer for Brintech, a technology management firm based in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Brintech serves clients across the country, helping them find ways to profit from their technology investments. Lynn reports on general technology issues like Internet trends, e-commerce, and network design for business publications. Before joining Brintech, she worked in the legal field, and designed and taught computer classes at the college level. Through Stetson University and a community college, she instructed DOT and other government employees about the use of the Internet and various office applications.

Lynn has a B.A. degree from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida. She is just inches away from her Master of Arts degree in writing.

For more information on Brintech go to their website: www.brintech.com or call 904-427-6772.

 
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