Measuring the gap

For the better part of four decades debate has simmered around the role and status of information technology in business, and the role and status of the senior IT executive in the corporate hierarchy.

In public, it has tended to be an amicable discussion. Business leaders still periodically criticise IT for focusing on technology before business, but they are just as apt to note the “strategic” importance of IT to business, and the creative contribution that IT professionals can make to business development.

Equally, in public, although senior IT professionals are prone to occasionally bemoaning their “under representation” in the boardroom, most are as comfortable with the jargon of INSEAD and the Harvard Business School, as with the geek-speak of the development shop or the machine room.

In terms of their rhetoric – when they talk the talk – it seems that business and IT are almost perfectly aligned. But what about when they walk the walk?

This Information Age Research Report on business IT management strategy, undertaken in conjunction with application delivery infrastructure provider Citrix Systems, aims to shine a little more light on the private thinking of IT decision-makers. And it has been a revealing exercise. As the analysis that follows shows, it ought to be increasingly difficult for business leaders to accuse their IT counterparts of high-tech tunnel vision.

Indeed, asked to name their key priorities and challenges for the year ahead, the general response of more than 400 of Information Age’s IT decision-making readership was overwhelmingly business-biased. It isn’t the array of technology issues that is taxing Britain’s IT leaders; neither is it the set of tactical issues they face, such as budget management, resource management or security – although these are not matters that are ignored.

Instead, the issues that are at the heart of IT executive thinking today are business alignment, people leadership, managing change and managing customers. At least three of these issues could equally well be found at the top of the priority list of any business executive. On this evidence, it seems that IT executives have been listening to other executives, and they have learned to look at the world as a set of business challenges that must be embraced and managed, rather than a series of technological puzzles that need to be solved.

However, can the same be said for the evolution in attitudes to the role of IT within the business function? Have business leaders come to prioritise IT’s alignment with business as much as IT professionals evidently have? The free text responses to our survey suggest that this is still far from being the case.

Certainly, when asked to detail the obstacles most likely to obstruct the achievement of their strategic goals, our respondents rarely mention technical issues. Instead, the commonest complaints of Information Age readers are really largely the perennial bug bears faced by all executives – time pressures; budget and financial constraints; and the difficulty of recruiting enough appropriately skilled staff.

Still, alongside these constraints are others that are less likely to be shared by IT’s business counterparts, and that suggest that many IT executives still see

themselves as poor country cousins in the corporate pecking order. “There is a disconnection between the business and IT” was just one of the more succinct remarks addressed to the question, “What is the main obstacle or problem that stands in the way of your IT organisation achieving its full potential?”

There were plenty more remarks in the same vein, and some that offered an even more disappointing insight into the breadth of the divide that still exists between IT and business. “Lack of awareness that the entire business now depends on IT – without IT we cannot function,” expressed another, echoing a common theme, and “IT being seen as a necessary evil and not as a business enabler" was another typical sentiment.

So is this all evidence that years of effort on both sides of the IT/business divide have still to make any real difference? Happily, the answer to this is no. The contents of Information Age and other business titles highlight a world of commerce and public service that is constantly being enhanced by the practical, and strategic, application of IT to business opportunities and problems. But there is still plenty of evidence to suggest that, even now, IT is not realising its full potential.

More from this research report

From barriers to benefits
Survey of IT executives reveals a professional class committed to realising business value, but shackled by technical and business constraints.

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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