It's been a cause of simmering discontent in many businesses for some considerable time. St George CIO John Loebenstein was only the most recent to manifest the complaint, when he delivered what Computerworld called "a peppery wake-up call to business leaders" to stop blaming the IT department for project failures and take some responsibility for poor management culture themselves. Delivering a speech to the March METAmorphosis conference in Sydney, Loebenstein said it was about time IT broke out of the blame game which all too often saw it carry the can for the failures of others.
"You have to ask if there are clearly defined strategies and goals within an organisation. If you don't have these, there's no point in criticising IT," he said. "You have to ask if there are a few egocentric business unit leaders peddling their own bicycles. We are the ones that get blamed for a lot of ills; we have to [get a place at the boardroom table]. Business has to realise that [an IT] project often has more non-IT related costs than IT costs - you'll find it's less than half."
Loebenstein's comments reflect a mismatch of circumstance and perception so vast that something, somewhere, is inevitably going to have to give.
Technology today is so intrinsically integrated with business strategy and capabilities it has become rare in any organisation to find a new business-related initiative lacking some technical component. At the same time, the rising dissatisfaction with the value technology is delivering to the business shows little sign of abating. The situation is so bad that in a recent poll more than 75 per cent of major organisations complained to BearingPoint that they were not getting commensurate value for their investments in technology - a rate that has been steadily rising over recent years.
Business heads, says BearingPoint South Asia vice president financial services and telecommunications Kirt Gardner, believe they are getting very poor service to accompany the very poor return on their investment from their business and technology-related projects. Ask them why, and which areas are most affected, and most have no answer.
"There's very poor transparency, and there's also very poor ability for most of our customers to actually link measurement of value to technology spend," Gardner says. "Most large companies would find it difficult to tell you everything that they're spending on technology. It would be difficult for them to tell you how many projects that they have in train and the nature of those projects, and I know barely any companies at all that could talk to you about what level of return and value that they're getting from that spend.
"In a lot of cases the heads of business really don't understand technology, and so when they're critical of it, they don't know what better practices really are. That lack of understanding contributes to the perception and the problem and also the friction that exists between technology and the business, and in many cases poor delivery capability."
The comments clearly have resonance for many Australian CIOs.
Gardner says businesses are quick to point the finger at technology for all the ills of the world but to accept that view is to get in the way of fixing the root causes of the problem. "Like with any problem there are two sides of the argument, and they both contribute to this value perception issue," he says.
Now BearingPoint is working with major organisations including JP Morgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, Citicorp, First Union, HydroQuebec, SunTrust, PNC and others to set up totally new models for achieving IT alignment with the business, giving heavy emphasis to IT portfolio management.
And Gardner is happy to share the BearingPoint approach to resolving the issue with CIO readers.
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