Where Should IT Focus?

A recent Information Week article, “Return to Growth” by Chris Murphy discusses a survey performed by IW of 333 IT Executives in May 2010.  It also sets up what could be a potential disaster for IT leaders if they blindly follow the direction espoused.

According to the survey, the top area for IT innovation for 2010, according to 48% of the IT leaders, is to “make business processes more efficient.”  The second area for IT innovation, at 36%, is to “introduce new IT-led products and services for customers,” which was up significantly from the 2009 survey.  This is the topic Mr. Murphy chose to focus on.  Now, as a writer, Mr. Murphy is free to focus his attention on where he feels the story is – which in this case is the substantial increase in the number of IT executives that feel the top area for IT innovation should be to add more IT-led product and services.  But what about the 48% who feel the top issue should be making business processes more efficient? Mr. Murphy seemingly dismisses this issue stating:

“IT tends to be most comfortable making business processes more efficient rather than driving sales and creating new products and working with customers. But with the pressure back on companies to grow, IT needs to do its part.”

Maybe the IT press feels fixing business processes is so mundane, so yesterday, that it’s not worth their time (clearly it’s still an issue for 48% of the IT executives) – after all, it’s far more exciting to write about direct revenue streams and customer facing applications.  This definite push for CIOs to be more customer facing and supporting in their activities is clear in articles such as Mr. Murphy’s and by other in the IT press (see CIO.com “What CEOs expect from CIOs”); perhaps at the expense of the basics – making sure IT efficiently and effectively supports the business processes.  Glazing over the basics before they are ingrained in the organization can lead to backsliding in the future – a slippery slope no doubt.

The problem with statements and articles such as this is they can sway some IT leaders to forgo the top issue – making business processes more efficient, and go straight to introducing IT-led products and services to customers, before they are ready.  This would be a mistake.  Why? Because organizations whose IT leaders feel the business processes need to be improved would be setting themselves up for disaster if they go out and create new products and services then try to lay them on top of the existing processes, which by their own admission are broken.  The result would be another product or service that does not meet user/customer expectations, and another IT failure for Michael Krigsman to write about.

The part that IT can play in this depends on how IT is viewed in the organization and how much it has matured in the organization.  It is likely those IT executives who feel the top issues should be introducing IT-led products and services for customers are already well on their way to working with the business leaders to make processes more efficient.  They are in a position to move forward, and they absolutely should in order to help the company grow.  However, those organizations that need to fix their business processes would be well served to focus resources on that area first (looking for ways to help customers along the way), then once the processes are improved, develop IT-led products and services utilizing the improved processes to drive revenues and help customers.

As an aside, Mr. Murphy also pointed out, seemingly with relief, “Far down the list of concerns for survey respondents…the age-old “business-IT alignment” issues.”  That’s really not a surprise to me, since I have been saying for quite a while that “business-IT alignment” is an outcome, not a process.  But that’s another story for another day.

What are your thoughts on this?  Where should IT focus, and When?


One thought on “Where Should IT Focus?

  1. IT should focus on doing its part to improve the system (in systems thinking terms) of the organization. In the short run a big part of that is likely in improving process type activity, supporting others in doing their jobs. There also should likely be a role for building the capacity of the organization. Information technology is critical to long term success. Most organizations today do not have the knowledge they should have in management ranks, and elsewhere. IT should be working on that in various ways. One way is by helping people find and use good technology solutions today (this not only can improve results today but builds the capacity of the organization to further exploit technology going forward).

    Here are posts on my blog about IT and management http://management.curiouscatblog.net/category/it/

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