Throughout the nineties we have heard chapter and verse about the need to align IT and business. While there is no doubt that great strides have been made, it's just as obvious that the gulf separating IT and business planners remains unacceptably wide. The very fact that IT and business are still regarded as distinct entities illustrates the problem.
The recent report into the Y2K problem by Inform Business Development, called "The Year 2000 Challenge: through the eyes of Australia's senior executives" is further indicative of the point. In this report the authors note: "Perhaps worst of all, responses made it obvious that in many organisations, senior corporate managers and MIS are not in step on the issue." For instance, on the vexed question of resources the report notes that "Many senior managers expect their present IT section to meet the Year 2000 challenge in addition to their normal activities. Many IS managers, aware that their staff are fully employed - in many cases, strained to the limit - by normal IT operations, do not share this view."Here are some striking examples of the communication disconnect between these two groups.
More than 80 per cent of corporate management believed they would spend less than $100,000 solving their Year 2000 problem. Less than half that number of IS managers thought they would get away so cheaply.
More than a third of the corporate executives interviewed claimed that none of their hardware would be affected by the Year 2000 problem compared to slightly more than 10 per cent of IS management who agreed with this assessment.
More than 80 per cent of IS management believed the Year 2000 problem is an important issue to their organisation's board. Among corporate management that figure was 25 per cent lower.
Of course, there is a wider issue that has received much less publicity. It is related to the Year 2000 problem, but it is distinct, and might prove more difficult for IS to explain to corporate management than the relatively straightforward date fix.
It is what we at CIO magazine call "The Year 2001 problem". After you have run your resources and your IS staff ragged just staying in business, how do you react to the pent-up demand for systems development which has been growing for years as resources were diverted into the date bug fix. Again, Inform's report is indicative of the problem. According to IS managers, nearly half the funding for Year 2000 work will be drawn from cutbacks to new software development and other ongoing maintenance projects. Only about 10 per cent of corporate managers recognised the need for cutbacks in these areas to fund Year 2000 work.
According to industry analysts International Data Corp this requirement to divert resources to Year 2000 work is exasperating an existing increase in the latent demand for new systems. IDC Australia's Merv Langby says the problem is that companies have seriously underestimated the necessary commitment to the project in two areas - in the amount of resources required to solve the problem, and in the amount of time required for testing. That reality is now starting to hit home, he says.
Those companies that jumped in early, spent the money and properly planned, executed and tested their century compliance projects will be on the blocks and ready to steal an ugly march of their competitors when the millennium really ticks over. Everyone else will be playing catch up for years to come.
Andrew Birmingham is the CIO of IDG Communications. Why not share your pain with him at Andrew_Birmingham@idg.com
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