Involve Users or Fail: An IT Project Case Study from East Africa

Involve Users or Fail: An IT Project Case Study from East Africa

Chris Procte (Salford Business School, University of Salford, Manchester, UK) and Molly Businge (Salford Business School, University of Salford, Manchester, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/ijitpm.2013100103
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Repeated surveys, and most notably those by the Standish Group, suggest that a substantial proportion of Information Technology (IT) projects fail. The literature suggests that this is in part due to a lack of user involvement in the project. The authors’ research describes the case study of a major IT system implementation project in East Africa. The paper reports on the results of both an online questionnaire and interviews with key participants. The authors’ findings suggest that the subsequent failure of this project was in large part attributable to a lack of user involvement in the definition of requirements and implementation of the system. There did not appear to be an organisational culture that recognised the significance of such participation in the project. Although there are issues of definition raised, such as the definition of success and failure, this work supports previous findings that user involvement is a key factor in IT project success and failure.
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This paper examines the implementation of a new IT system into a bank in East Africa. Over the years the bank had automated several operations based on individual user or departmental information. The systems that were being used were on several platforms that needed to be merged. The bank required an IT system to streamline its operations and also to reduce fraud that was rising as a result of increasing market activity. The project was managed by a project team including the project manager, who was also the head of IT in the bank, members from the board of directors, and some of the heads of department. The project involved the implementation of a Management Information System (MIS) that was to consolidate, streamline and automate all processes in the investment bank. The budgeted cost of the project was about $4,000,000 and this was for both hardware and software, exclusive of recurrent licenses. During the course of the project, costs increased to an estimated $5,350,000 partly due to the 20% yearly license fee later agreed with the supplier.

The project was estimated to take a period of six months to implement. However at the time it was stopped, it had been running for about one year. All budgetary allocations had been stopped by management. The hardware component of the project was about 85% implemented but the software component, the greater part of the whole project, was largely not implemented.

The author worked as an ICT systems administrator representing the branch of her bank during the project. The researcher was particularly interested, from her experience, in the human factors that contributed to the failure of the project and thus approached key stakeholders with a view to participating in research which sought to establish the level of user involvement in the project, and the relationship between this and the project outcome. This personal involvement, and the significant role played by a few key stakeholders suggested qualitative research (discussed further in the section on methodology). Creswell’s widely cited work on qualitative research design (2007) suggests the case study as one of the five valid approaches for designing qualitative research. Thus the research examines the project as a case study in which we aim to answer three research questions:

  • 1.

    What is the link between user involvement and IT project success?

  • 2.

    How did the users describe their involvement in the project?

  • 3.

    What issues were voiced or shared relating to how user involvement influences a project?

The paper thus commences with a discussion on the definition of project success and failure, which is a key concept in this paper and a contested field. It then discusses the role of users and user involvement in IT projects. It goes on to examine literature concerning the significance of users in IT projects, the benefits and costs of user involvement and more detailed issues such as how and when to involve users. The paper describes the case study and the organisation of a questionnaire and interviews to elicit the views of those who took part in the project. The paper presents the findings from this research and discusses the findings with conclusions including suggestions for future work.

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