Monday, 7 November 2011

Has IT really moved on?

This week I have been reading an interesting yet somewhat antiquated book first published in 1993 by Harvard Business Revenue called "The Business Value of IT".  Comprising a set of detailed, real-life case studies written by a number of CIOs and IT managers in high profile global companies, the book covers the challenges that they faced and the IT strategies they used to achieve success.

Given the age of the book in relative terms, you would expect this to be a quaint snapshot of a bygone era, but the really interesting thing is that the problems these guys faced in the early 90s would be easily recognisable by the CIOs of today.  This raises a somewhat embarrassing question - have things moved on in IT, or are we actually just going round in circles?

The iPad 3 will incorporate a new, intuitive user interface.

These guys, speaking from within very notable companies such as British Petroleum and Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) faced the big strategic decisions that are still current today:

  • How to respond to rapidly changing customer needs
  • How to make IT more 'human-centric' - what we would now call Business-IT Alignment
  • Whether to insource or outsource IT
  • How involved should CEOs be in IT decision-making?

So why haven't things moved on?  Almost 20 years later, shouldn't we be living halcyon days of a mature IT organization playing the shining star in the business? - driving the business forward with fast-paced innovation.  The truth is that we're not quite there yet, but we're getting there.  As the old device-oriented perspective is pushed aside to make room for more service, business and human-centric paradigms, the IT body of knowledge is finally growing out of adolescence into maturity.

We don't know what it is, but they said it's going to solve all our problems

It has become obvious that those IT organizations that have achieved notable success in supporting business with a competitive edge have been driven by people making the right problem-solving decisions, not the implementation of raw technology as a silver bullet.  To twist the words of Ronald Reagan in his inaugural speech - technology is not the solution to the problem, technology is the problem.  Technology is a means to an end, and will only ever deliver true value when deployed in the context of good strategy, good processes, good people, and good business decisions.  If any one element is missing, or one link in the chain is weak, there is a higher risk of project failure and IT will continue to tread water.  Much time is wasted on continually changing one enterprise technology toolset for another - and every time the promise is that 'this one is the one that will solve our problems'.

For those that are interested, "The Business Value of IT" is available from Amazon. A brilliant, readable book for anyone involved in IT.

So has IT moved on?  Has IT delivered what we were promised?  Answers on a punched card.

1 comment:

  1. I'll take you back even further. Read "Managing the EDP Function" by Ditri, or "Managing the Data Resource Function", by Nolan, and you'll see similar themes from the '70s and '80s.