IT departments struggle to become more agile

At its Metamorphosis conference in San Diego, Meta Group analysts preached the need for IT departments to become more agile so they can respond faster and more effectively to changing business demands.

The toughest part is getting there, said some of the more than 600 conference attendees.

"It's a lot easier to identify the 'what' than it is the 'how,'" said Salim Nuraney, director of architecture at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming in Toronto.

Nuraney and other conference attendees generally agreed with Meta Group's position that IT managers have to get much better at cross-training their staffs to react to changing business requirements, make their IT cost structures more variable and meld siloed business-unit architectures into a more cohesive environment.

"We believe quite strongly that Ford has to create this adaptability to stay in the game," said Jeremy Seligman, an IT manager at Ford Motor in Allen Park, Mich., which recently began overhauling its approach to IT.

Other IT managers said their organizations have taken steps along what they consider to be a multiyear journey, but many cited resistance by end users to organizational and business process change as key impediments.

"The last thing end users want to hear is another great idea that came from IT," said Lisa Yeo, CIO of Multnomah County. For instance, individual county agencies want to maintain separate systems and IT architectures, despite the efficiencies and cost savings that could be achieved by managing the systems under a single enterprise architecture, said Yeo.

"We're trying to show them how sharing common systems and platforms would help us countywide," she said.

A survey of more than 300 IT and business managers by Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group, scheduled to be published next month, points to the issues facing adaptive efforts in IT. More than 90 percent of the respondents said they are either involved in or plan to become involved in adaptive efforts. They said the biggest barriers to those initiatives are a lack of staff support (34 percent) and the need for too much business process change (30 percent).

Plus, it's tough for IT to align itself with business units when business managers aren't willing to devote time to projects that serve their needs, attendees said. "Business users still don't want to give up their time and get engaged in projects," said Alex Sinclair, director of client services at the Ottawa-based Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada's equivalent of the U.S. Homeland Security Department.

One applications manager for a large Midwest manufacturer who requested anonymity believes his company's IT department already does a good job of aligning with its business units. "One of the things we need to change is how we react to user requests" for support, he said. "End users only see us as IS, not as separate functions," such as infrastructure or network groups. "We need to change that."

As he sees it, to become a truly adaptive IT organization as defined by Meta Group, "you really need to stop the ship. You can't, so the challenge is trying to do this while the ship is in motion" and understaffed IT departments struggle to manage day-to-day operations.

One way to address the human resources issue is to build a skills management database that can track what expertise an IT department has in-house and where people are assigned at any given moment, said Karen Rubenstrunk, executive vice president of Meta Group's Executive Services division.

The main reason most IT departments haven't been able to become more flexible, said Rubenstrunk, "is the lack of courageous leadership" among CIOs to drive changes throughout both business units and IT departments.

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