Under Analysis: Catching the vision

If only more senior management would perceive IT as a vital investment tool, then the annual witch-hunts of IT budgets could finally be a thing of the pastThe recent acknowledgement by US Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan that technology investments over many years have propelled the US economy and have been a major factor in inducing an "inflation free" expansion of the US economy is good news for IS managers.

Indeed, if more chief executives could catch the vision and see that IT is a strategic investment which could conceivably provide the organisation with a competitive advantage, then the annual inquisition of IT budgets would be passŽ.

At a recent banking conference Greenspan extolled technology's role in boosting labour productivity and the resulting benefits to the US economy. He asserted that "the evidence for technology-driven acceleration in productivity is compelling, but not conclusive". Greenspan suggested that the surge in electronic commerce and technological innovation are keeping prices in check.

These insights will boost acceptance by business leaders and policy makers around the globe. It is real evidence that the benefits which have been expected by IT proponents in many countries, including Australia, are beginning to be realised. It is recognition of the strategic and productivity value of IT. As this recognition finds its way into the boardroom there is now a real opportunity for IT executives to build on the beachhead which has been established.

Of course, the investment in IT needs to be of a strategic nature if we are to see lasting gains. Shorter-term marginal or incremental investments may save a few dollars here or there, but this will not change the national landscape. It is those organisations which have the vision to apply technology to new areas, to innovate within their industry, and to change the traditional way of doing things using IT as the great enabler, which have the potential to assume leadership positions. These same organisations are then able to contribute beyond their immediate horizons to the good of the nation.

If IT managers are to gain an influential role and become change agents within their organisations they will need to understand the environment in which they operate, the major constraints facing the organisation, understand and use technology to build on the organisation's vision and then be able to communicate this to the chief executive and the board. In some cases this will be a big ask, way beyond the present scope of the IT manager's present role within the organisation. In other cases the opportunity already exists, it is just waiting for someone to accept the challenge, to pick up the ball and run with it.

Graham Penn is general manager of research for IDC Australia

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