By Dave Smith

Have you ever seen a situation at a client site where factions are warring over technology decisions? Who hasn’t? The usual gut reaction of most consultants is to avoid getting involved in these discussions like you would avoid getting the plague. One offhand comment to the wrong person and you become “part of the problem.”

But I believe consultants can help resolve these situations, given the right approach and a commitment from management. In this article, I’ll share the quantitative process I use to give recommendations on technology decisions.

A word of caution
If you’re being asked to end a “religious war” over a technology decision for a client, I recommend considering these prerequisites:

  • Make sure you are funded to take on this kind of problem. Managers are often anxious to resolve these situations once and for all, so they are open to spending some money. But don’t do it on the side as if you are addressing another project, or these kinds of issues will swallow you whole.
  • Don’t take on the assignment if you have a vested interest in the outcome. Your bias will affect the way you behave, and that bias will become obvious to all involved. You need to behave dispassionately and objectively at all times during this assignment, even when having coffee with your buddies. The objective must always be the “right answer” for the shareholders, and your behavior must exude that.
  • Don’t take on the assignment if managers at the level at which you are being engaged are warring over the issue. You need to be engaged by someone a level or two above the issue or else you’ll just be a hired mouthpiece for one side.

A method for measuring the technology options
That said, you must make the process of resolving a technology war quantitative. In other words, you need to “measure” which technology is better. A qualitative approach—one where you make a choice by your “gut feeling”—obviously will not work if the warring parties have become emotional. The key to the success of a quantitative approach is that it seeks to strip the emotion out of the decision process. I’ve adapted mine from a standard request-for-proposal process. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Assemble a team with the major stakeholders represented. It’s best to first interview these folks individually to find out where they are coming from and what their objectives are for the exercise.
  2. Ask potential vendors to present information on the technologies in question as an initial education exercise. This helps the group prepare a list of requirements that are in tune with what is possible from the technology. Those vendors should be the leading companies in their respective technology areas.
  3. Have the team compile a list of requirements for the technology based on real business or technical needs. You can prepare an initial draft of the list, but the team members need to finish it and make it their own, which is best accomplished in a workshop session. Then, have the team members weight the requirements according to importance—and don’t let them just label all requirements “high.” Weigh them numerically and make the total add up to 100, which will force the group to make hard decisions about what is important.
  1. Send the requirements to the vendors and ask them to respond. Depending on how much time you have, you can ask for a formal written response along with a presentation or just a presentation.
  2. When the vendors present their products, the team members should score them on each of the criteria using a scale of “0 to 10” or “0 to 5.” Average the score for each criterion and then multiply that by the weight the team had decided for that requirement. The total percentage score you now have for each technology in question will tell you which technology the team prefers. (Avoid tallying the total score until everyone has marked all the individual requirements. Otherwise, some members may change their answers to influence the outcome.)

If there is more than a 5 percent difference in the scores between vendors, your evaluation is relevant. Any less and it’s too close to call.

Dave Smith is an independent consultant who specializes in IT strategy and technical architecture. He has 16 years of experience with IBM products and was recently a partner in an emerging technologies consulting start-up.

Do you get involved in your clients’ disagreements over how IT dollars should be spent? How do you help them resolve these issues? Post a comment below or send us a note.

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