It has become a cliche to talk about IT project cost overruns and blown deadlines. When an IT project achieves a good return on investment, that's news.
But particularly in tough economic times, starting a project without knowing whether it will reap returns can be a foolhardy, if not career-ending, proposition.
To achieve high ROI, you have to know the key elements that help create it. You also have to be willing to take out the calculator and prove it. "There's a lot of ROI out there," says Tracy Black, senior vice president of IT at JB Hunt, one of the largest transportation logistics companies in North America. If you spend just a bit of time looking, you can find it."
We asked four companies with super project returns how they did it.
1. Company: Animas, a Johnson & Johnson company that manufactures insulin pumps
Project: Streamlining order management in the sales call center
Duration: Four months
ROI: $250,000 per month in labour savings and increased sales
Untangling business processes is one of the most satisfying things that IT can do, especially when it yields unexpected benefits. Just ask Jean Campbell, a business analyst at Animas, and Bogdan Butoi, the company's chief technology officer. They knew they'd get labour savings of up to US$40,000 per month when they revamped Animas' order management processes with a new outbound calling system, real-time reports for call center representatives and a wizard-based order-taking script. But they didn't anticipate streamlining the process so effectively that reps would be able to process 2,000 more orders per month.
The outbound calling system replaced a manual process that required more than 10,000 calls per month to remind customers to reorder insulin supplies. By spending US$10,000 to automate this process with a voice-over-IP system that runs on Animas' existing voice network and then integrating it with the company's homegrown customer relationship management system, the IT group freed up 33 additional staff days per month that could be reallocated toward processing orders.
Success was immediate, Campbell says. The day the system was launched, the shipping manager came upstairs to the order department, demanding to know why she was suddenly handling 200 extra orders. "That piece came as a surprise," Butoi says.
The additional US$10,000 went toward designing and implementing a wizard-based system that standardizes the order-taking process, reducing average call times from five minutes to three. An automated validation script verifies prescription and insurance information in customer records, eliminating another manual approval process.
Finally, real-time reports enable reps to see orders in their queues that are unfilled because information is missing. Previously, reps couldn't see that until a daily report was issued.
Keys to Success
- Accurate analysis of where the order management process was bogging down. "We spent a lot of time with users, and we created a lot of iterations of the wizard," Campbell says.
- No false deadlines. "We said we'd implement it as soon as it was ready," Butoi says.
- Extensive testing of the outbound calling system, resulting in a bug-free release. "Patients immediately bought into it," Butoi says. "It [had] their confidence from the very beginning."