IT departments being marginalised

An MSM study has revealed that 2016 was the first time that more IT projects were initiated by the specialist departments than by the IT departments. A “Business IT alignment” is urgently needed to ensure sustainable results.

Christoph Widmer, december

No company can avoid digitalisation altogether. It seems that this is something expert opinions agree on. The opportunities and potential that the digital revolution offers the business sector are simply too great to ignore. Of course, the IT departments are responsible for implementation – as you would expect – and for moving their companies in the right digital direction.

Business requirements neglected

And yet IT is no longer the sole domain of the IT departments. Specialist departments are increasingly assuming the responsibility for driving IT projects themselves. This is what the study “The Workplace of the Future” reveals, which was issued by the Swiss market research institute, MSM Research, and is based on surveys with 66 companies and around 33,000 workplaces in total: For the very time, more than half of all ICT projects were initiated by business, and not by IT:

Can specialist departments entrust digitalisation to IT at all? Is IT capable of stimulating projects that satisfy the demands and requirements of the departments responsible for business? A workplace study prepared by the German market research institute IDC certainly raises doubts. While modernising workplaces is a top priority for both the users and those responsible for IT, this task is often overshadowed by other tasks that are considered to have a higher priority. IT itself still considers improving security to be its key responsibility.

«We identified a significant investment backlog in many companies which urgently needs to be reduced.»

Mark Alexander Schulte, Senior Consultant at IDC

However, the study encourages critically questioning whether IT decision-makers might be too focussed on data security, and whether it too often takes precedence over business enablement. Because this is exactly where there is a need to catch up. “We identified a significant investment backlog in many companies which urgently needs to be reduced,” as Mark Alexander Schulte, senior consultant at IDC and project manager of the study, explains.

Roles not clearly assigned

Meanwhile, it remains unclear exactly whose responsibility this is. According to MSM, the majority of business-driven IT projects originate from the sales, marketing, finance, human resources and management departments. The market research institute Techconsult, in contrast, was unable to clearly identify an obvious driver of digitalisation in its study, “Digitalisation Enablers”. Either the roles vary according to company, or IT, specialist departments and management are joining forces as active drivers of digitalisation.

However, even if the findings aren’t conclusive, the following is clear: Only in rare cases do IT departments initiate new IT projects of their own accord. Who, however, will play the role of the company’s main driver of IT in future is difficult to gauge. This is because business and IT are jockeying to determine the company’s own IT strategy.

EMC, a provider of IT systems, has established that the majority of those assigned to IT believe that they alone are responsible for the company’s IT strategy. According to the study, which involved surveying around 2,700 IT decision-makers and business managers, the business end of operations seldom agreed with this point of view, instead considering IT strategy to be its task.

Interactive IT

Nevertheless, the study concludes that IT must assert its role as the innovator that is driving new IT projects. Ultimately, the primary interest pursued by business decision-makers is not IT, but rather the corporate goals. This will be no easy task for IT departments: The study indicates that most CIOs doubt whether they are equipped to manage IT tasks resulting from company growth and ever increasing requirements – as far as they are even responsible for them.

According to the study report, companies are increasingly relying on cloud and outsourcing services. Those responsible for in-house IT are therefore worried about their department. More than 50 percent of the CIOs surveyed expect that these departments might well cease to exist as self-contained units by 2019.

However, to allow CIOs to present themselves as the driving force behind corporate IT, they need to enter into more extensive dialogues with the specialist departments and management. It is not the maintenance of existing IT infrastructure, but rather the “Business IT alignment” that will allow corporate IT to act as the driver of, and hub for, business processes. This means that IT needs to be perfectly attuned to the strategic objectives, services and processes of the business. According to the study report, IT staff not only need to demonstrate business know-how, but above all, flexibility. Knowledge of the potential offered by new solutions, such as cloud computing or convergent infrastructures, is therefore indispensable for CIOs and their employees.

«Only by working together can specialist departments and corporate IT master this transformation.»

Thomas Pinegger, technical strategist at Swisscom

“Digitalisation is transforming entire industries. Business models are being turned on their head to the same extent as IT is being revolutionised,” as Thomas Pinegger, technical strategist at Swisscom, explains. “Only by working together can specialist departments and corporate IT master this transformation. Only when the specialist departments really start exploiting the technical revolution and IT starts making exactly the right contribution will implementation be successful and the company be able to reposition itself. Consequently, it is the responsibility of management to ensure that the trenches between specialist departments and IT are bridged, and both areas structure the transformation in unison.”

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