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Successful IT systems
Successful IT systems

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1.3 Reflecting on success and failure

We would now like you to work through a pair of activities to reflect on the two case studies you have just seen, and to relate them to other examples of success and failure in IT systems that you know from elsewhere.

Activity 1

Timing: 30 minutes

Apart from one being public sector and one being private sector, what do you think are the three main differences between these two case studies? Make notes (around half a page in each case) on what you think made the first system a success and the second one a failure.


In our view (and throughout these answers we recognise that your view may be different and just as valid), the three main differences between the case studies are as follows:

  • A clear plan was followed for Mitchells & Butlers’ system (M&B), whereas the BBC Digital Media Initiative (DMI) appears to have changed its nature over time.
  • Although both were ambitious and large-scale projects, the M&B system was appropriate in its scale, whereas the DMI was over-ambitious.
  • The M&B system was completed to plan and successfully rolled-out; the DMI was left incomplete.

Mitchells & Butlers’ IT overhaul feels like a successful system. It is designed to draw upon existing systems, but to work with modern technology − there is much use of virtualisation and the cloud. It is standardised across different sites, although with appropriate local changes if necessary. A clear plan was identified and followed, and benchmarking with comparable organisations used to get a feel for the success of the plan. It has to be said that most of the discussion is from the central management perspective, and that other stakeholders within the organisation might see the success or otherwise somewhat differently.

By contrast, the BBC Digital Media Initiative feels like a failing system. It is described very negatively throughout the report. It was over-ambitious in terms of its scale, significantly behind schedule and ended up being largely incomplete. A few aspects of it were completed (notably the ‘Fabric archive database’) but most of the project remained incomplete, which as it was conceived as an integrated whole, meant that it was largely unusable. At the time of the report given here, reasons for the failure were still to be investigated.

Activity 2

Timing: 1 hour
  • a.Having read the two short case studies of success and failure, search online for two short case studies of your own, one of a successful IT system and the other of a failing IT system.
  • b.For each of your case studies, write a sentence explaining why you regard it as a success or a failure.


We hope you enjoyed finding these case studies. There are many rich case studies available online, although it can sometimes be challenging to separate genuine descriptions of an IT success story from what is basically a marketing piece by a vendor or consultancy. Failures are easier to spot in this regard!