This article discusses the expert system (ES) project champion by examining the experiences of Ciba-Geigy Corporation with an ES project, impeded by the departure of the project champion. The OpBright Expert System, developed to support the identification of appropriate optical brightener products by sales representatives, was intended to provide a competitive advantage through superior customer service. With the promotion and transfer of the vital force committed to the project’s success, the ES encountered a stalemate. The difficulties in maintaining momentum for the ES without a project champion are discussed. Finally, suggestions are presented to guide organizations away from the same fate.
The role of project champion has been recognized as vital to successful project development since the time of Schon’s (1963) seminal work. A project champion for information systems is defined as “a key individual, whose personal efforts in support of the system are critical to its successful adoption” (Curley & Gremillion, 1983, p. 206). The project champion, for ES projects in particular, is recognized as critical to the successful application of this technology (Hayes-Roth & Jacobstein, 1994; Sipior, 2000: Wong, 1996). Champions of ES projects differ from those of other projects due to the necessity to identify, document, and distribute knowledge and expertise, facilitating knowledge-sharing. The characteristics of project champions are discussed in the next section.
A project champion is frequently an executive from the area of application (Willcocks & Sykes, 2000), but may come from external organizations, such as a consultants or vendors (Thomas, 1999). Champions may be managers (Beath, 1991); or hold other formal positions (Mayhew, 1999; Pinto & Slevin, 1989; Thomas, 1999). Surprisingly, champions rarely come from formal IT functions (Martinsons, 1993; Willcocks & Sykes, 2000) and may even view IT managers as too conservative, adversaries to technological innovations, and even inept (Beath & Ives, 1988). Rather than being assigned to the role, interest and personal conviction to a project compel the champion to emerge (Pinto & Slevin, 1989; Schon, 1963). Formally appointing an individual could actually lead to his demise (Howell & Higgins, 1990). Once convinced, the champion exhibits an entrepreneurial spirit (Bolton & Thompson, 2000; Pinto & Slevin, 1989; Schon, 1963).
The champion tends to go well beyond job responsibilities, and may even go against management directives (Beath, 1991; Curley & Gremillion, 1983). Champions are characterized as more than ordinary leaders. They exhibit transformational leadership behaviors (Howell & Higgins, 1990). Such leadership is particularly valuable for implementing systems intended to bring about organizational change (Beath, 1991; Landers, 1999), such as redefining responsibilities, realigning lines of authority, shifting power centers, and adjusting reward schemes. As knowledge repositories, ES certainly has the potential to invoke change of this nature.