If you ask CEOs how well their IT operations are doing, 75 percent will saythey are doing great. However, if you dig down, and ask how their companies are leveraging IT to help generate revenues, reduce costs, improve employee morale, drive profits, improve customer service, or manage risks, then the percentage drops down to 30 to 35 percent.
What are the root causes of this "perception gap" in value between business and IT? Several ideas come to mind:
- Some CEOs still consider IT departments as "cost centers". Rather than exploiting technology to help drive the rest of the business, they are seen as a necessary evil, an extension of the accounting department, for example.
- Some CEOs consider IT's role as basically "keeping the lights on". They only notice IT when the lights go out, or other business outages caused by disruptions in IT.
- IT departments measure themselves in technology terms, not business terms. CEOs and the rest of the senior management team may not be "tech savvy", and the CIO and IT directors may not be "business savvy", resulting in failure to communicate IT's role and value to the rest of the business.
This conference is focused on CIOs and IT professionals, and how they can bridge the tech/business gap. The first two executive keynote presentations emphasized this point.
- Bob Moffat, Senior VP and Group Executive, IBM
Bob Moffat (my fifth-line manager, or if you prefer, my boss's boss's boss's boss's boss) is the Senior VP and Group Executive of IBM's Systems and Technology Group that manufactures storage and other hardware. He presented how IBM is helping our clients deploy smarter solutions. Globalization has changed world business markets, has changed the reach of information technology, and has changed our client's needs.To support that, IBM is focused on making the world a smarter planet, instrumented with appropriate sensors, interconnected over converging networks, and intelligent to provide visibility, control and automation.
It's time to rethink IT in light of these new developments, to think about IT in client terms, with business metrics. Bob gave several internal and customer examples, here's one from the City of Stockholm:
Covering nine square miles of Stockholm Sweden, IBM led [the largest project of its kind] for traffic congestion in Europe. To reduce congestion caused by 300,000 vehicles, the City of Stockhold enacted a "congestion fee" with real-time recognition of license plates and a Web infrastructure to collect payments. The analytics, metrics and incentives have paid off. Since August 2007, traffic is reduced 18 percent, a reduction of travel time on inner streets, and a 9 percent increase in "green" vehicles.
In addition to smarter traffic, IBM has initiatives for smarter water, smarter energy, smarterhealthcare, smarter supply chain, and smarter food supply.
- Dave Barnes, Senior VP and CIO, United Postal Service (UPS)
Dave Barnes must act as the "trusted advisor" to the rest of the senior management team. UPS delivers packages worldwide. They put sensors on all of the vehicles, not just to know how fast they were driving,but also how often they drove in reverse gear, and sensors on the engines to determine maintenance schedules.Analytics found that driving in reverse was the most dangerous, and by providing this information to the drivers themselves, the drivers were able to come up with their own innovative ways to minimize accidents.This is one role of IT, to provide employees the information they need to enable them to be better at their own jobs.
Dave also mentioned the importance of collaborating across business units. Their "Information Technology Steering Committee (ITSC)" has 15 members, of which only three are from the IT department. This helped deploy social media initiatives within UPS. For example, Twitter has been adopted so that senior management can get unfiltered customer feedback. This is perhaps another key role of IT, to flatten an organization from cultural hierarchies that prevent top brass up in the ivory tower from hearing what is going wrong down on the street. Too often, a customer or client complains to the nearest employee, and this may or may not get passed up accurately along the chain of command. Twitter allowed executives to see what was going on for themselves.
Dave also covered the "Best Neighbor" approach. If you were going to build a deck in your back yard, you might ask your neighbors that have already done this, and learn from their experience. Sadly, this does not happen enough in IT. To address this, UPS has a "Tech Governance Group" that focused on business process across the organization. For example, they improved "package flow", reducing 100 million miles in the past few years.
Lastly, he mentioned that many technologists are "loners". They have a few like that, but try to hire techies who look to team across business units instead. Likewise, they try to hire business people who are somewhat tech savvy. For example, they have encouraged business employees to write their own reports, rather than requesting new reports to be developed by the IT department. The end result, the business people get exactly the reports they want, faster than waiting for IT to do it. Another role for IT is to provide end-users the tools to make their own reports.
(Dave didn't mention what tools these were, but it sounded like the Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools [BIRT] that IBM uses.)