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This is the year you clear your IT backlog. For real.

A radically different approach to digitization is helping organizations clear their IT backlogs for the first time in... ever.  

It's the definition of insanity: doing the same thing but expecting different results. Yet so many organizations continue to follow the same IT processes even though they have created monumental backlogs for years, if not decades.  

Few would disagree: The system is broken. But companies keep trying to make it work. In fact, 90% of senior leaders say their organizations have pursued at least one large-scale digitization project in the past two years. But, they captured less than a third of the value they expected and less than half of the cost reduction.1 And our own research shows that 88% of organizations agree that optimizing and digitizing complex manual processes is both very costly and requires significant IT resources.2

Yes, it’s getting worse. 

If the IT backlog has felt particularly daunting recently, there’s a good reason for that. Two, in fact.  

First, the number of projects in the queue is rising creating longer wait times and more frustration.  

Second, the speed of technology adoption (and obsolescence) is accelerating. That means an IT request that takes years to reach the front of the line is likely no longer relevant. In fact, the technology it was intended to enhance may no longer even be in use. (Oh, and the original request? It was made by someone who has long since left the company.)

Dysfunction by the numbers 

The bottom line is that companies are using more and more resources and getting less and less value in return. Why? Here are a few clues. 


The numbers tell a compelling story. When you combine limited IT bandwidth with a lack of strategic clarity and organizational coordination, the result is a free-for-all where projects pile up month after month and year after year.  

The irony is that resourcing issues are often created by misguided attempts to use those resources wisely.  

Traditionally, an organization will try to save time and resources by leveraging an existing technology solution to answer the need for new functionality. On the surface, it's a good idea. If you already have a well-established vendor in-house, why wouldn't you use their solution to solve for as many new requests as possible?  

But retrofitting existing solutions has proven to take up far more time and resources than tailoring a solution from scratch—and end up meeting fewer of the requirements. As a result, straightforward requests eat up more IT time than expected. Multiply the inefficiency by the number of requests in the queue, and the result is the massive backlog most organizations are dragging with them into the new year.  

5 steps for breaking up the backlog  

Fixing the dysfunction involves breaking with tradition and empowering business resources to build their own solutions. If this sounds like science fiction, take a deep breath, because it’s the new normal. By 2021, 84% of companies had already set up so-called "fusion teams"— multidisciplinary digital business teams who are tasked with fast-tracking digital transformation that originates outside of IT.  

By putting solutions for rules-based processes in the hands of non-technical resources, organizations can divert a high volume of projects from the IT backlog and reallocate them to the business owners who will benefit from them. The only projects that remain in the queue are those that specifically require IT expertise.  

This five-step process can help you wade into the backlog and start chipping away at it until projected timelines for IT projects can be measured in months instead of eons.  

1. Identify a process 

Start by scanning the backlog. You're looking for complex processes that need to be digitized—manual, knowledge-based, behind-the-scenes processes and services that support core business functions. 

Examples might be:

  • A project to enable customers to sign up for a checking account online rather than in-branch.

  • Enabling a patient to submit a digital health form rather than filling it out manually in the waiting room.  

You want to focus on complex rules-based processes because they tend to wind up at the back of the line while core processes that support revenue-generating activities get fast-tracked.

2. Build a prototype 

Once you've identified a complex process that's ripe for digitization, give the business owner the tools they need to lead the way. A platform with rules-based logic built in and the ability to create decision trees will enable non-IT teams to quickly spin up a functional prototype that automatically adheres to the compatibility and security guidelines required by IT.

3. Gather insights 

Because business users are given permission to prototype, they can launch a solution quickly, get feedback, and use those insights to troubleshoot and refine the user experience in the real world and in real time. 

This approach can save significant resources over the traditional, IT-led approach, which focuses on building a solution based on the submitted specs and doesn't provide opportunities for collaboration, early feedback, and course-correction. For a real-life example of this type of iterative process led by business experts, take a look at this case study featuring BMO. 

4. Deliver value 

Pulling complex processes out of the IT backlog and putting them in the hands of business owners enables the organization to approach the problem differently. Instead of looking for ways to leverage existing technology, project leaders can start with a blank slate and build the solution that supports the best CX and delivers the greatest value to the business line.  

This doesn't mean ignoring or replacing legacy technology. In fact, the right solution can layer onto or integrate with existing systems, transforming the experience at the front end and transferring the collected data to the legacy platform at the back end. So, when your organization is ready to overhaul all of its systems end to end, customers won’t experience any disruption.

5. Rinse and repeat 

Once you have successfully piloted the first digitization project led by a business user, you'll emerge with everything you need to repeat the success at scale, including the IT frameworks and the prototyping processes and insight-gathering processes. You'll also have measurable results that you can use to gain organizational buy-in. Now you can keep chipping away at the backlog until you've tamed the beast. 

New year, new approaches 

The new year is a time to leave the past behind and step into a better future. Will your IT backlog be one of the many things you bid a (not-so-fond) farewell to in 2023?  

By letting business teams tackle the complex processes that impact their everyday lives and transform the experiences they can deliver to their customers, you can break up the backlog, accelerate digital transformation, and give IT the space they need to focus on the projects that truly need their unique skill sets.

Contact center agents working with their headsets on.

Sources and credits

1Three new mandates for capturing a digital transformation’s full value, McKinsey, June 2022 

2What senior IT leaders are saying about their business priorities and challenges, Daylight Survey, Oct. 2022 

3How to restart your stalled digital transformation, McKinsey, March 2020