The rigid boundaries between business expertise and IT knowledge are becoming blurred. On this point, at least, all the industries questioned in the study agree, says Angela Vacca, author of the study “What Business Managers Want (From IT) − An IDC Western European Vertical Market Survey 2007”: “The priorities of business managers and IT managers are gradually coming closer.” After all, the business manager needs to be able to understand the IT manager − and vice versa. Consequently, business manager are increasingly seeing IT as a prerequisite for their business processes, and costs take on a secondary role. According to Vacca, it is far more important for the IT to help the company gain a competitive advantage.
For the study, IDC questioned managers at 413 enterprises in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom with more than 20 employees. The research, which was carried out in January of this year, focuses on the role of the IT manager from the point of view of the business managers. The industries involved include banking, insurance, discrete and process manufacturing, healthcare, the TCU sector (transport, communications, and utilities), wholesale and retail, education, government, and professional and personal service providers such as law or tax consultancy firms.
Overall, business managers were very satisfied with the work done by their IT colleagues, and praised them in particular with regard to innovations. A good 70 percent of those asked said that IT managers had been involved in innovation processes in the enterprise. Healthcare alone reported different results. Barely half the business managers here said that IT managers were an innovative force.
Availability comes out ahead of costs
Almost two thirds of the business managers also agreed that they spend a significant amount of time supporting their business activities with various kinds of IT solutions. This was found to be particularly true in industries in which cooperation between IT and business managers was the closest. In manufacturing, for example, one in two of those asked spent 40 percent of their working hours on processes supported by information technology. For enterprises in the TCU industry, too, the figure was a good 25 percent. Managers in wholesale and retail invested the least time in IT: 73 percent of these survey participants dedicate less than ten percent of their day to IT tools.
What is surprising in this context is that business managers rate the effectiveness of IT as far more important than its efficiency. In other words, costs by no means play the most important role in IT. The primary factors for the quality of IT management are seen as availability and the satisfaction of employees and customers using the technology. 60 percent of business managers would welcome higher investment in the internal IT department. Cost reductions, on the other hand, are rarely a priority for business managers.
According to IDC, this aspect reveals an important turnaround in the assessment of information technology, and indicates a move away from the premise that “it must be possible to get that more cheaply” towards the goal that “IT must bring competitive advantages;” a turnaround that can also have consequences for software providers, say the creators of the study. “In this context, the providers can play a decisive role as mediators between IT managers and business managers,” says Vacca.
Poor grades for strategy initiatives, support, and data access
Despite their praise for the IT departments, the business managers are not sparing in their criticisms. They believe the greatest deficits can be seen in support, where the need for improvements is greatest, followed by access to data and information. The tools for customer relationship management do not fare well either. As Vacca explains, this is a shortcoming that many different industries complain about. According to her, the main problem here is the access to data in real time.
In the business managers’ view, the further development of the enterprise strategy is always the responsibility of the top management. Only 20 percent of the business managers regard the IT managers as the initiators of new strategies. “This has to increase,” states Vacca. But no less than 40 percent of business managers say that their IT colleagues are involved in strategy projects. And 20 percent of business managers also believe that the IT managers then also implement the strategies.
Differences between the industries, differences in the requirements
Even though the business managers in the different industries agree on numerous points, their answers vary, sometimes greatly, when it comes to the needs and requirements relating to IT. In the TCU sector, for example, IT is part of the core business. The business managers here naturally rate support as very important. They would also like to see greater integration of the IT managers. In contrast, banks’ most important asset is customer information, and consequently, access to this data has the highest priority for the business managers in this industry. They also want information technology to be compliant with legal regulations.
Customer data is just as important for insurance companies, but here the focus with regard to IT is on support for insurance advisors, who need to access this information during their visits to customers. The situation is similar for service providers. International law firms, business consultancy firms, engineering offices and – last but not least – providers of IT services must be able to connect up their employees and partners worldwide and pave the way for smooth data access.
Government offices, on the other hand, want better support from the IT department and express the desire for more flexibility when placing IT contracts with third-party companies. IT managers in the healthcare industry have the hardest time of it – here, the business managers are the least sure of the business benefit offered by information technology.