IT, business execs spar in chilly climate

The need for business managers to show an ROI on all IT investments made within their organisation compels them to work more closely with IT, but the relationship between the two is far from cosy because of politics and infighting.

This kind of organisational politics is not new with a recent Forrester Research study of 437 business executives revealing that one third are dissatisfied with their IT department's performance.

The survey found the dissatisfied group was more likely to fight with IT departments for control of IT initiatives, believed their companies lag in the adoption of emerging technologies such as content management and supply chain management systems, and face higher IT project failure rates than peers who are happy with their IT shops.

One regional IT manager at a Sydney-based professional services firm agrees claiming business managers feel they spend too much on IT or the level of service they get from IT too low.

"The industry's opinion of IT this decade is a big thumbs down; but business choose to spend less than what's required," he said.

Cap Gemini Ernst & Young's CTO for the Americas John Parkinson said software applications built to support business processes and operations are rigid and "antithetical to agile behaviour."

"Businesses like to be able to change directions on a dime, and those are conflicting forces," he said.

While there are no easy answers to the software problem, Parkinson did offer some suggestions on how to bridge the gap between IT and business citing British Petroleum and Wal Mart as examples of companies that have aligned the two.

That's largely because "companies who excel at this typically live off thin (profit) margins" and have to be razor-sharp with their IT investments, he said.

This is the first time Forrester has posed these questions to business leaders, making it difficult to draw historical comparisons to executive satisfaction with IT.

However, "if you ran this study in 1995, I bet the numbers might be flipped - that 66 percent would've been dissatisfied with their IT groups," said Steve Andriole, a senior consultant at Cutter Consortium.

The Forrester study, titled "Why Are Business Executives So Unhappy With IT?" was based on a survey business unit heads and C-level executives in late 2002 and published last month.

(Thomas Hoffman contributed to this article)

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