Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Download this course

Share this free course

Successful IT systems
Successful IT systems

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

1 Success and failure in IT systems

What makes an IT system a success and what makes it a failure? We have deliberately referred to ‘IT systems’ here rather than a narrower term such as ‘software’, for two main reasons. First, most technologies in use in organisations are a complex mixture of hardware, software, networks and other infrastructure (such as data centres). Secondly, the success of such technologies depends on factors that go well beyond the purely technical, to include, especially, human and organisational factors, but also many others.

When we talk about IT systems we mean both more than technology and – within the technology – more than software. Hardware technology is just as important for IT success as software technology; and human and organisational issues are just as important as technology. This is not to denigrate the importance of software, undoubtedly one of the most important components of any IT system. However, since it is quite common in computing circles to equate ‘IT’ with ‘software’, we wanted to be clear up front that we’re not taking that view in this course.

Another question which will be explored in more detail later is what is meant by success and failure. The answer may often depend on the stakeholders from whose perspective the success or failure is being judged: a project manager may consider a system successful if it comes to completion on time and in budget; a software developer may consider it successful if it contains good-quality code that runs well; an end-user may consider it successful if it helps them do their job effectively; and so on. We will consider stakeholders and their role in determining IT success or failure later in this course.

You will learn much more about the nature of success and failure in IT systems later in this course. For now, we will use the following definitions:

  • a successful IT system is one that meets the needs (i.e. the goals or strategy) of an organisation within which it is used, as well as relevant needs of other key stakeholders related to, but external from, that organisation
  • a failed IT system is one that does not meet the needs of an organisation within which it is used and/or its other key stakeholders.

Success and failure of IT systems can be seen in many different settings. They occur in private businesses, in the public sector and in the voluntary sector. They can be found in very large or very small systems. The smallest implementation of an IT system in a company can be very successful or very problematic; the largest implementation can likewise go very well or very badly. Large public-sector failures get a lot of publicity because they are spending public money and are subject to public audit; but private-sector failures are perhaps equally common, even though they are not widely discussed. If a private sector project is a success, it is widely written about in the computing press; if it is a failure it is often forgotten.

You will now look at two short case studies: one of a successful and one of a failed IT system. The successful project is from the private sector and the failed project is from the public sector, but it could have equally been the other way around. After you read the following case studies, you will be asked to reflect on what makes them a success or failure, and then to look for examples of your own.