leadership in software implementation

From a nytimes article about an expensive defense department failure to implement purchased off-the-shelf enterprise software, this passage about leadership and decision-making caught my attention, with, I think lessons for the academic context:

The report cited many concerns, but the main one was a failure to meet a basic requirement for successful implementation: having “a single accountable leader” who “has the authority and willingness to exercise the authority to enforce all necessary changes to the business required for successful fielding of the software.”

I spoke last week with Paul K. Ketrick and Graeme R. Douglas, two institute researchers who were among the co-authors of the study. They said some small-scale operational systems in the Defense Department had drawn praise for successful unveilings, in the Navy and in the Defense Logistics Agency, for example.

“They got there because they had strong leadership who committed to the program and had the authority to make the changes necessary for success,” said Mr. Douglas. But “it’s rare that a single leader in the Department of Defense has the authority over the span of activities” affected by the systems, he said.

Pat Phelan, a research vice president at Gartner, the information technology research company, also calls attention to the difficult and time-consuming nature of decision-making within the department. She advocates empowering small groups to make necessary decisions, as is done in the private sector, but she does not expect the department to change. “That mind-set, that cultural shift, is not something I expect to happen in my lifetime,” she said.


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