Execs See Technology As Important – But Not IT

Another survey about business/IT satisfaction gaps—yet again. The more things change, in many ways the more they remain the same. This one points out that business functional view of the importance of technology is not synonymous with IT’s ability to adequately support it.

This article revolves around Forrester’s July 2008 survey of 600 business executives and how they perceived IT’s role in their organizations; both in terms of importance of technology and how well IT supported that technology requirement. The results were not so positive. To be fair, this survey was conducted long before the current economic meltdown and related cost crackdowns. Unfortunately, that would probably widen, not shrink, the expectation gap.

Before delving into the survey, let’s look at this through a CIO’s lens. Aren’t we just talking about the same old “What have you done for me lately?” syndrome? You know the one I mean. The project is done, the goal is met, but amnesia overtakes the business execs who have a laundry list of new requests to replace the super-human project that was just aced by your staff. A gap like this resembles that. But a gap like this also should remind CIOs that a communicator’s job (a.k.a., the CIO’s) is never done. It is your job to remind folks what you’ve done for them lately.

But First …

The survey, which I co-wrote, sorted the responder results by primary business organizations—executive, sales, customer service, marketing, product development, manufacturing/supply chain, and finance/HR. Here are a few highlights and some words of advice about business-IT gap:

Technology dependency – Eighty-two percent (82%) of respondents agree that technology is core to their business, but only 71% see IT’s role as effective in providing support to them. And in terms of IT’s importance to the firm’s various business functions, the product development organization (no surprise) places the highest level of importance on technology. But they are the least satisfied with IT’s ability to support them.

I’m willing to bet that most IT organizations have no staff focused in this area. Product firms need IT analysts embedded in or assigned to product development organizations; despite those organizations saying that they don’t need any help. The days are long gone where engineers could (as they like to say) support their information needs by setting up their own databases and writing their own apps. But if IT doesn’t assign anyone to work with them, how would they know otherwise?

Reducing costs – Expectations are aligned but business is still not happy. Sixty-six percent (66%) of responders agreed or strongly agreed that technology is primarily used to reduce cost of business operations in their firm. And, for those firms, 65% felt IT was somewhat effective or very effective at supporting that requirement.

Business functions, however, viewed this responsibility of IT as less important to them than the other areas. When the question was viewed by all business functions (not just those that felt lowering costs was the primary role of technology), firms expressed dissatisfaction in comparison to its importance to their functions.

I attribute dissatisfaction in this area to poor communication about what IT is delivering in terms of cost containment or reduction. I am willing to bet that most IT organizations report out project outcomes, but not their ability over time to reduce the cost to onboard a new employee, for example, or process an order. The solution is to assign communication to someone in IT and measure their effectiveness.