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Enlisting the Help of Guides for “Class V” IT Transformation Projects

Whitewater rafting, a sport that was added to the Olympics in 1972, ranks in the top ten list for sports-related fatalities, killing more people than other adrenaline-generators like hunting and skiing/snowboarding. 

While this statistic from American Whitewater may scare people into hanging up the life jacket, studies show that rafting-related dangers are avoidable.

Research indicates that out of the 250,000 to 400,000 guided "person visits" each year, rafting killed only one person; the remaining death-toll occurred during self-guided trips.

Guided trips deliver less fatalities than self-guided expeditions because they are led by experts who are trained to evaluate the risks and rewards of a particular activity through a third-party, horizontal view of several related factors - those that are often overlooked by self-guides.

In the case of whitewater rafting, these factors may include the river’s classification, seasonal implications, time-of-day considerations, weather, experience level of rafters, and lessons learned from previous rafting trips. And there lies the true value of enlisting an expert: assured risk avoidance.

The Fork in the River: what Business can Learn from Sporting

This value spans across other high dangerous disciplines. Business activities that can be considered a deviation from the norm or categorized as high risk, such as utility enterprise IT transformation projects, are a prime example.

Whether adding or replacing the customer information system (CIS), enterprise asset management (EAM), meter data management, (mdm), customer resource management (CRM) or enterprise resource management (ERP), enterprise IT system projects have always carried significant risks. The modern-day explosion of disruptive factors and technologies that are forcing utility companies to change at an unprecedented speed are exposing them to greater dangers.

The horizontal focus of third-party consultants, who have built their careers delivering successful projects for client companies, includes understanding key business drivers, identifying the right systems and people to deliver project success, preparing an organization for change (organization change management), and ensuring the implementation runs smoothly via excellence in quality assurance (QA). They complement vertically-focused, function-specific internal resources by staying one step ahead of disruptive factors and technologies.

Choosing a Guide

When it comes to hiring a guide for high-risk utility projects, it is important to think outside of traditional interview questions by asking and considering the following:

1.      Integrity. Merely being selected to support a utility IT transformation project isn’t good enough. Sometimes consultants are fired mid-project and still include the company's logo on their resume (qualifications). It is important to ask consultants if they have ever been fired during a project, and why, for similar reasons as you would ask a rafting guide if anyone has died in their care.

2.      Vendor Relationships. Consultants who are difficult to work with or draft lengthy RFPs with extraneous questions and requirements sometimes get black-balled by system providers and integrators. Companies need to be exposed to all providers, so it’s important to ask consultants about their relationships with vendors and any programs they offer to keep the lines of communication open.

3.      Innovative Culture. There is no longer such a thing as “business-as-usual.” As a result, consultants who are bound by “we’ve always done it this way” thinking are not equipped to prepare companies for the nuances of a particular project and future that is unwritten. It is important to assess a consultant’s commitment to innovation.

Analogous to traversing the Class V drops, undercurrents, and boulders of the Upper Tuolumne in California’s Cherry Creek, utility enterprise IT transformation is extremely difficult and highly technical. The riskier the project or initiative, the more value an expert guide can offer. Third-party consultants have knowledge and experience that do not require internal teams to step outside of their areas of expertise.

But just as no two rivers are the same, neither are third-party consultants. Building a successful team, with a blend of internal and external resources, should include asking out-of-the-box questions that one would expect from a rafter concerned with safety and overall activity success.

Follow Vanessa Edmonds on Twitter @vyedmonds 

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