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Forward Thinking

Forward Thinking

One of the earliest TV series to make an impression on me was Doctor Who. I remember thinking how exciting it would be to accompany the Doctor into the Tardis and ride the dimensions of time. Thirty years on, in the dynamic, ever-changing IT industry of the 1990s, the opportunity to get a sneak preview of the future seems an absolute godsend.

Yet the challenge of predicting the future is something that many CIOs face daily. They have to ensure that the services provided by IT assist the future plans for the business. Many of the required IT investments are infrastructure components. Often it takes several years for these ventures to return a dividend. As such, the CIO is faced with trying to anticipate whether today's solution will still be pertinent in three or four years time.

A quick trip in the Tardis back to 1994 highlights the difficulty facing CIOs: client/server and multimedia were in vogue, e-commerce meant EDI, and the Internet was the domain of the universities. Unix and open systems were topics evoking passionate debates, and downsizing was going to spell the end of the mainframe. At the desktop the only choice besides the Mac and DOS was Windows 3.11. I could go on, but I trust these examples illustrate the difficulty of second guessing the evolution of the IT industry.

Recent research by IDC has highlighted that this is the plight of many CIOs in this region. In its annual Forecast for Management survey of Australian and New Zealand CIOs, IDC has for the last three years asked IT executives questions on the frequency and content of their IT strategic plans. While just under 60 per cent updated it annually, over 40 per cent either did it every three to five years or else had no IT strategic plan at all. One wonders just how plans devised circa 1993 to 1995 are helping their organisations better align IT services with today's business directions.

The challenge was most noticeable in the public sector. Here only 48 per cent of IT executives updated their IT strategic plans annually compared with 71 per cent of their counterparts in the finance/business services sector.

Twenty-eight per cent of CIOs in the public sector modernised their plans every three years and nearly 5 per cent took over five years before doing so.

For those organisations with an IT strategic plan, the main areas covered in it were the structure of the IT department, the services that would be provided and the IT architecture and infrastructure. Around 86 per cent of such plans covered these components. Of some concern though was the relatively low percentage of CIOs covering information management in their IT planning processes.

On average only 64 per cent of businesses made provision for this in their IT strategic plans. At a time when many CIOs are anxious to elevate their status from that of a technician to one of a strategic information provider this is clearly a concern. It would seem to indicate that over a third of CIOs are having great difficulty elevating their thinking beyond bits and bytes. What is perhaps even more disconcerting is that the lowest industry group to include information management in their IT strategic plans were those in the finance/business sector. In these highly IT-dependent organisations more effective information would seem a crucial differentiator that the CIO can provide.

Other IDC research shows that the challenge of aligning IT with business directions remains a major issue for CIOs. As such, it would seem that the need for IT strategic planning, especially in consultation with end users, is a critical process in ensuring IT services fulfil business requirements. The challenge the relentless pace of change in technology demands that these plans are flexible and regularly revised to ensure they offer current, pertinent IT directions for the business.

Peter Hind is the manager of User Programs, which includes InTEP, at IDC Australia

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