Deliverance from disinformation technology

ONE of the most overworked concepts in business thinking is "project management". Borrowed from the building industry, it came into vogue as flatter organisations encouraged employees to think less about progress up fewer ladders and more about working in teams and moving between assignments, or projects.

But in no area has it a greater relevance than information technology. IT has been hailed as the great saviour, but perhaps because of this it has often been found wanting. Since adopting IT usually requires large amounts of hardware or software, it is a natural for project management. To judge from the number of IT initiatives that go wrong, it would also appear that what project management techniques are being applied are not as effective as they could be.

Which is where Applied Business Technology, the US provider of project management solutions, believes it comes in. Chris Murray, president of the company that is best known for its PMW Project Workbench tool, sees "integration of information" as the key ingredient in ensuring the success of projects - particularly as they grow more ambitious and spread.

This sounds simple, but it is difficult to achieve whenever more people want to find out about the progress of works or to affect what is being done.

"All of the constituents are demanding to be part of the processes," says Mr Murray, who was in London last month to address a conference on the issue.

Often, because of out-sourcing and partnership arrangements, the need for information extends beyond the enterprise itself.

This is a contrast with the past, when he adds - only half-jokingly - IT managers went to users of IT and said, "Here's what we're going to build for you. You just send a cheque, and the costs will grow by 25 per cent a year and everybody will be happy."

Now chief information officers are becoming an endangered species. In their place are stepping up inquisitive general managers who want information on their desktop PCs.

The only problem with that is that they can be swamped with information and still not really know anything.

Mr Murray says his organisation, which he plans to take public in the US in 1996, has coined a term for what is required - "integrative results management". It is, he believes, the beginning of a new approach to helping organisations assimilate all the information that is available into usable knowledge about the progress of projects.

The information technology industry is likely to be receptive to the idea, explains Mr Murray, because "it is in trouble - its customers are much less patient".