From barriers to benefits

IT management is challenging. It sits on the fault line separating a world of business skills, that have been practised and perfected for generations, from a newer world, whose skills and disciplines are in a constant state of accelerated evolution. Under the circumstances, IT managers could be forgiven if they left business people to worry about the business, while they concentrated on keeping up with the constantly changing world of technology. But, that isn’t what happens at all.

Modern IT managers are there to serve the business, and they take their responsibilities very seriously. In the course of next year, according to an Information Age survey of more than 400 senior UK IT decision makers, IT professionals will be tackling much the same issues that preoccupy their business counterparts: managing customers, managing change, managing people and – above all else – managing the IT so that is fully aligned with business requirements.

As the data shows, the emphasis that IT professionals place on these four concerns is clearly more than for any other issue. Although security is still a clear concern for some IT professionals, it is the only technical issue that really features on their priorities list. In their own minds (if nowhere else), it seems that IT managers are business leaders first, and technologists second.

But is this how their employers see them? Encouragingly, asked to rank which of their activities their organisations perceive will add most value to the business, a quarter of respondents identified business process optimisation as their organisation’s chief expectation of them. Less encouragingly, in just under 16% of organisations, IT is still seen principally as a source of cost savings, and around 15% see IT as a personal productivity aid. Only 4% of organisations are thought to see IT as a competitive advantage, and just 6% feel it enhances customer relationships.

Clearly, there remains some significant disparities between where IT professionals believe IT’s true potential lies, and the perception of IT value held by the business, and to some extent this is reflected in the list of obstacles IT executives identify as preventing them achieve their goals. At the top of this list, cited by more than 47% of respondents, is the apparently insoluble issue (even in this era of offshoring) of skill shortages. This is followed by several other familiar problems: lack of IT spending (cited by 40% of respondents); inflexible business processes (36%); legacy software (35%); and, sadly but predictably, “IT is not seen by the board as a priority” was cited by 34% of respondents.

Fortunately for the IT professional, even for that significant minority of them that still appear to struggle for the recognition and support they need from the business, IT is an intrinsically innovative function, and is constantly producing new products and technologies that can be leveraged for the corporate good.

Specifically, in the months ahead, IT professionals are looking forward optimistically at the technologies and policies that they expect to help achieve their business goals in 2008. At the top of this list is networking, voice and data communication technology – cited by 51% of respondents. ERP and other enterprise software suites (cited by 33%), collaboration technologies (27%) and business intelligence applications (25%) are also still highly regarded.

However, perhaps the most significant response to this question came from the 36% of respondents who cited server virtualisation as the technology most likely to help them achieve their business goals. Only a few years ago, such acclaim for this technology’s potential would have been unthinkable. Today, it is being adopted by IT managers at an accelerating pace, and delivering business benefits that have impressed even the most demanding business managers.

Perhaps, with virtualisation, IT executives have at last found the technological marvel that can win them the business recognition that they need – and deserve.

More from this research report

Measuring the gap
The new generation of virtualisation technology presents a compelling proposition.

On the shortlist
A handful of technologies are lauded as key to the success of modern IT. How is that showing up in the market?

Further reading

Agility applied at Standard Life
Standard Life has emerged as one of the star performers of the UK’s life and pensions sector. And its bold adoption of agile IT techniques is credited as key to that elevation.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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