CEOs still don't regard IT as vital: survey

Study shows lingering incorrect attitudes among execs

IT leaders looking for a pat on the back for delivering technology to the business could be waiting a long time. Survey results released recently by Forrester Research show that many business executives don't credit IT for providing those high-tech resources.

The business and IT relationship has long been challenged, but the Forrester survey of 600 business executives from large North American companies shows that there is still much work to be done before these two factions can truly partner. While 82% of those surveyed said they rely on technology to do their jobs, only 71% credited IT for being effective at supporting technology critical to the business. About three-quarters of respondents see technology as important in improving enterprise competitiveness, but only about 60% reported IT as being effective at that goal.

Part of the problem could be that business leaders don't identify IT as the providers of technology they may very well support. For instance, 64% of respondents identified traditional enterprise software providers such as SAP and Oracle as the primary source for technology. Fifty-eight percent identified business applications developed by IT staff and 43% pointed to third-party or contracted application developers as their primary source for technology solutions. Forrester pointed out that despite the source of the application, internal IT is most likely involved with the provided technology.

But IT falls short in other areas as well, according to the business respondents. One example is improving user workforce productivity. According to Forrester, "78% view this as a somewhat or critically important business driver, but only 45% viewed IT as supporting that need very well or excellently."

The study also revealed that business leaders want their own staff to become more knowledge about certain technologies and become capable of playing a bigger role in facilitating technology for themselves. For instance, 59% viewed it as a top priority for staff to gain business process analysis skills, 53% said the same about project management and 47% indicated a similar interest in information modelling. In addition, 43% wanted to know more about collaboration tool configuration and customisation, which Forrester attributes to business use of wikis, blogs, conferencing and instant messaging. Essentially, if the technology directly impacts a business unit, leaders want to be involved.

"Deciding on the quality of the solution was the area they had the greatest interest in — with 36% believing that to be the business' job and another 39% viewing it as shared work between business and IT. Business responders also wanted to own or share in decisions about whether a solution should be firm-wide or unit-specific, solution design, and prioritisation of tech investments," the report reads.

Technology areas that business is satisfied with leaving to IT for 50% or more of the responsibility include security and privacy, project management, configuration of a new system and management of a system once it is in full production.

IT executives who have long endeavoured to sit at the table with business leaders may be surprised to find what CEOs think of CIOs hasn't changed much in the past year, and Forrester analysts don't anticipate the current economic climate will improve the view of IT as disconnected from the technology it provides.

"The 2008 BT survey of business executives is a wake-up call for those IT leaders who thought that 2009 should be a continuation of 2008 behaviours with their business peers. Remember that the survey was conducted prior to the crises in the financial markets and subsequent slump of the economic indicators," the report states.

"CIOs who conclude that this survey is not about them or their companies should think again," it states.

"To not change some aspect of current behaviour will surely result in losing ground somewhere in the firm."

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