Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Jun 5 2012   5:43AM GMT

How important is IT?

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

It is true that information technology, as a discipline, has made steady progress over the years. From being a back-end operation, IT today has come on to the forefront, impacting work in all organizations. While companies are embracing IT like never before, IT as a function still struggles to stay relevant in many organizations.

Beyond the jargon

As the debate lingers on, CIOs speak out about their achievements and about how they bring value to their organizations. We often hear terms like business alignment, IT strategy, talking business language, business orientation, reforms / process re-engineering, leadership qualities, cross-functional orientation, etc. They sound great, no doubt; but different workplaces require different solutions and the CIO has to do what is relevant for the situation.

For instance, large organizations may require a different focus than a medium sized one; similarly banking companies may have different priorities than conventional manufacturing companies. I have come across quite a few of them during days of my regular employment and subsequently as a consultant. I would like to classify companies and their requirements in the following four types:

• Companies that want a ‘good’ IT budget:

These are essentially the small and medium companies who have IT facilities but have no grand ambitions. The proprietor or director is troubled with the IT manager’s regular demand for more PCs, servers, switches, and the likes, and wants the spends on IT to be regulated. He looks for some advisor who would tell him how much of IT he should have and help make a proper IT budget for the company so that he can manage his meager finances better.

• Companies that want a streamlined IT:

These are medium-sized organizations and have much better intentions with respect to IT. They are serious about IT and want a proper direction for their IT program but are often plagued with their inability to get a good, senior IT professional to manage the function. They look for external assistance in the form of consultants or advisors who can draw an IT Plan for the next year and also set a direction for IT over a 3-year period. They may not have exalted ideas of using IT as a competitive weapon or making IT a driver for their business, but have down-to-earth views of using IT efficiently.

• Companies that understand the strategic value of IT:

These are from the medium and large segment of companies belonging to the conventional manufacturing and distribution, whether in the discrete or process manufacturing. They usually operate in a competitive environment and look for ways and means of increasing or retaining their market share. Efficiencies in operations, effectiveness in delivery, responding to vagaries of the market, and being alive to changing customer preferences are areas that they want to use IT for. They have a senior person to head their IT function and also seek external consulting assistance. They largely consider IT a strategic tool and insist on an IT strategy document and one that aligns with business goals and priorities. The CIO here does not really have an easy time.

• Companies that use IT as a differentiator:

Companies belonging to the BFSI segment, telecom, retail, airlines, rail / road travel and related service companies, have a different take on IT. For them IT is the lifeline and most of their offerings ride on their IT systems. They create differentiated products and services and make as their winning formula. They also offer personalized services to important customers and use IT to retain and enhance their customer base. CIOs in such industries have to be on their toes and create a flexible architecture to meet ever changing business environment.

No simple solution

A single solution or approach therefore is not apt for dealing with all situations. Importance of IT differs from one organization to another. I have often heard some people speaking of the winning formulas and advocating solutions to others based on their own successes. We don’t have to talk of an IT strategy or IT as a differentiator in all cases and IT solutions therefore need to be relevant to the situation the company is in.

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