IT managers still not 'business-relevant' enough

In analyst Gartner's latest survey of IT manager priorities, "demonstrating business value" rose from fifth to second position compared to the previous year, according to research company Gartner's latest survey.

But one of the crucial determinants of that goal, "better project prioritization and management", sank from sixth position to ninth, says Gartner's Asia-Pacific vice president, Bob Hayward.

This suggests that IT managers are looking at the question from the standpoint of demonstrating the value of their past investments, and "not doing enough today" to ensure they will have business-relevant IT to demonstrate tomorrow, he said at a presentation forming part of the Govis (government information systems) conference in Wellington, New Zealand, in May.

Hayward sees business effectiveness of ICT in government as subject to many of the same measures as private-sector ICT, with some important additions and substitutions. Measures such as enhanced revenue and advantage over competitors in time to market seldom apply, for example, but fulfillment of political objectives, social development and economic benefit for the country as a whole should be added.

However, he criticizes both public and private-sector evaluations of ICT benefit for concentrating too heavily on the meaureables such as return on investment and net present value, and not enough on the less measurable aspects like prompt service, customer satisfaction, positioning as "state of the art" or "best practice" and even favorable media exposure.

He also points to the importance of "opportunity cost", citing an exercise with an Asian airline where he asked staff to look back on previous expensive ICT developments and consider where the airline would have been without them. The answer in many cases was that they simply would not have been in business, since they would not have been able to handle the workload, or been overrun by competition.

Such "counterfactual" situations are easier to evaluate in retrospect, he acknowledged in answer to a Computerworld question, and there are no clear methodologies for predicting them reliably.

The government adopts at least four distinct roles in regard to the citizen, says Hayward: representation of the elector; protection of the citizen from disorder, authority over a "subject" by means of law enforcement; and supply to a customer. Each of these has its own measures of success.

To the normal business objectives of greater operational efficiency and better and more consistent service, governments should add a political dimension which is often as important as the others, Hayward says. For example (touching on a current hot-spot of the government's digital strategy) whole-of-government IT procurement may be more efficient, but it leads to dealing predominantly with large multinational vendors. This is likely to generate considerable political flak from the small suppliers in the local industry.

He showed the Govis audience a welter of methodologies and charts from Gartner and rivals aimed at quantifying and visualizing payback on a variety of dimensions.

An implementer may find themselves considering "five pillars" of efficiency "and viewing government business through the lens of those pillars"; a star diagram measuring various advantages radially, or the elaborate pyramid of escalating benefits comprising the US government's Federal Enterprise Architecture Performance Reference Model.

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