Informations Systems Consultant

IT leaders should prepare their teams to avoid these mistakes in 2013.

| BY Chris Murphy | 

The harsh truth is that everyone remembers IT’s mistakes more than its victories. So in that spirit, we’re looking back on some of the problems we’ve written about in 2012 in hopes of purging those demons in the year ahead.

Sure, IT teams are doing a lot of things right. Cloud is a great example — IT teams are increasingly not just open-minded to cloud software and infrastructure options, they’re also starting to become the lead advocates for it. And a lot of everyday victories are things that never happen: systems that stay up. But every good IT leader has a spirit of constructive dissatisfaction, looking for ways to get better and test new boundaries.

So here’s a list of six ways IT is still failing the business, with survey data and examples to back up why we see these risks.

1.       IT Is Still Underestimating Mobile’s Impact

Only 53% of IT teams are very or extremely involved in creating a mobility policy for their company, including bring-your-own-device, according to our InformationWeek IT Perception survey. This response is identical for IT and non-IT respondents, one of the rare areas they’re in agreement.

That means almost half of IT shops are sitting out — or are cut out — of the mobile discussion. IT leaders need to insert themselves in this conversation. They need to help companies make the most out of mobile devices, not just help manage them. Too often, IT has been caught napping in the mobile revolution.

First, too many IT shops missed the iPhone revolution by initially fighting their use by employees rather than seeing the potential and rolling up their sleeves to solve security problems. Then — fool me twice — they missed the iPad revolution, with too many seeing it, at best, a “niche-y” gadget. In 2010, almost 70% doubted that even 10% of employees would get tablets; in our just-completed InformationWeek Outlook 2013 survey, it’s down to half. Our survey finds that 35% of companies have mobile device management software on their project lists for the coming year, but only 26% are creating mobile apps for customers, and a mere 18% are creating mobile apps for employees.

Too many IT shops got caught like this forward-looking IT operation that nevertheless didn’t move fast enough on tablets for the sales team: “Mobile computing has been a key component of our IT strategy for several years. We’ve delivered on initial focus areas, building mobile applications for customers and enabling employee personal mobile device access to company email. Our mistake was in not anticipating the dramatic surge in popularity of the iPad commensurate with the release of the iPad 2. Sales force demand to leverage company-liable tablets rose suddenly, requiring us to be uncustomarily reactive. IT quickly bridged the gap, setting policy and implementing mobile device management, which enabled the company to mitigate financial impacts. However, we’re still working to regain the full confidence of our sales executives.”

2. IT Budgeting Is Unrealistic

When we asked 453 IT pros about 16 different project types, the majority described the same funding scenario for every one of them: It will increase IT costs in the short term but decrease operating costs long-term.

That strikes us as, well, nonsense, and it led us to this cover story about raising IT’s credibility problem. Of course, IT projects such as a private cloud infrastructure absolutely must follow this model. So when 63% say cloud infrastructure will cause a short-term increase in capital spending and about two-thirds say it’ll mean long-term capital savings and operational savings, it makes sense. But the 50% who think deploying mobile device management will lead to overall cost savings sound optimistic.

Deploying a new software platform to support a new tier of mobile devices, be they employee- or company-owned, sounds like a solid strategic move to engage employees and help them collaborate, but it also sounds like a tough cost savings plan. Likewise, building a big data business intelligence or decision-support system is seen as a cost saver by 73% of companies. Likely a smart investment, but it seems as likely to be an expense that lets the company spot revenue opportunities — something less than one-third envision.

Jonathan Feldman writes, “It’s hard not to read the survey data and think of anything but unbridled optimism. But it’s not grounded in reality. … Everyone’s going to spend in the short run but save in the long run.” Feldman offers additional insight into budgets in a recent article that found 4 of 10 companies either don’t have an IT governance board or it has little influence on IT spending.

3. IT Is Too Slow

Asked if their organization was “distributed, agile, and flexible,” a slim majority of IT pros — 57% — agree. In contrast, barely one-fourth — 27% — of businesspeople outside IT agree. It’s a glaring gap, one of the worst differences in perception between IT and non-IT employees in our InformationWeek survey of IT Perception.

We sounded this alarm almost two years ago. The reality is that IT will never be fast enough. Marketing will always want projects yesterday. Technology is too essential and moves too fast.

The key element is this: When business units decide to move fast, do they consider IT a partner that will help a project get done more quickly? Do they trust IT to help find the right outside developers, if needed, to steer through the security and compliance concerns with practical answers that balance speed and market pressure as well as risk?

More companies are creating customer-facing apps and embedded software as part of their products. If CIOs are going to be part of developing those products, speed will be key. As Vail Resorts CIO Robert Urwiler puts it, “An 18-month plan is not an appropriate plan. We need to be able to spin things up very quickly.”

4. IT Isn’t Building Data-Powered Decision Tools

One-third of companies use dashboards extensively to provide interactive data visualizations. In comparison, 60% use spreadsheets extensively, and half use emailed PDF or HTML reports. This suggests plenty of room to move away from a mentality of backward-looking reports and toward data-driven decision-making tools.

The good news: This shift is starting. Almost half of companies (47%) plan to use analytics or BI for predictive analysis, compared with one-third that do so now. Only 20% have no plans for such use. That 47% is by far the highest category of “planned use” among 14 areas for analytics use in our InformationWeek Analytics, BI and Information Management Survey. This isn’t just IT’s problem — business unit leaders need to stop relying on rear-view mirror reports and start pushing for predictive analysis.

5. IT Hasn’t Built A Bridge To Marketing

Barely half (51%) of IT pros characterize IT’s relationship with marketing as good or excellent, our Outlook 2013 survey finds. Almost one in five (18%) says it’s poor or fair. Human resources and supply chain are the only areas close to that, with only 54% and 53% rated as good or better. On the flip side, almost two-thirds describe their finance and CEO relationships as good or excellent.

IT can’t let this stand. Marketing increasingly relies on data and analytics to do its job. Product development increasingly means apps and embedded technology as a key part of what makes products special. IT needs to contribute to those efforts. At the C-level, it’s up to CIOs and CMOs to build this bridge — and to the CEO to insist that it happens. Just as important, CIOs need to embed staff-level leaders inside the marketing organization to serve as a resource and plug the marketing efforts into the larger IT strategy.

6. IT Doesn’t Focus On The End Customer

This is the area we’ve seen some of the greatest change in recent years — for the better. The best IT teams and IT pros have always understood their industry as well as the technology. But the combination of mobile computing and improving analytics have let the best IT shops get closer than ever to their customers — the people or companies who buy their products.

Companies are creating mobile apps for their customers, using analytics to understand and market to customers in new ways and embedding more technology in their products. In this year’s InformationWeek 500, 46% had introduced an IT-led product or service; in 2009, just 37% had. Likewise, 30% include “engage customers in new ways” as a top priority, where 20% did three years ago.

Again, this isn’t just IT’s problem. Some companies chase these tech-powered customer opportunities by routing around the IT organization, hiring an outside mobile app developer or implementing customer analytics without IT’s involvement (see the previously discussed concern about IT moving too slow). IT must be a part of those discussions, even if the decision is to outsource development or use cloud software.

Tech spending is looking up, but IT must focus more on customers and less on internal systems.

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