The IT Business Gap: More than Other Departmental Gaps?


Forrester Research recently published research from 2008 on a theme that most IT publications write about consistently: the IT business gap. In this case, Forrester's latest angle is an original one dubbed "The Business-IT Expectation Gap."

My amigos over at CIO Insight consistently cover the IT and business alignment issue, and without a doubt, IT is not where most executives expect them to be nor has it been really, ever, as far as I can tell. But I wonder where is the data showing all the other departments in a giant, global corporate organization hitting the mark in effectiveness compared to business objectives?

When you look at the numbers showing business expectation next to business effectiveness, IT always comes up short. The data surveyed 600 business execs (in companies with earning over $1B) shows some interesting gaps including:

  • Product development executives ranked the importance of IT to core product and/or services objectives at 90 percent, but rated IT effectiveness at 80 percent.
  • 77 percent see IT as mandatory for sales and distribution, but only 67 percent see IT supporting sales effectively
  • "IT is not supporting business drivers. The only category where IT support quality approached importance of the business driver was in improving end user workforce productivity - 78% viewed this as a somewhat or critically important business driver, but only 45% viewed IT as supporting this need very well or excellently."

The question if I were a CEO (massive presumptuous gulp) would be, what's an acceptable ratio of effectiveness? And, am I evaluating all corporate departments on effectiveness connected directly to the business?

Clearly, business executives consistently see an IT gap, but in many cases aren't we talking about the silos, budgets and egos of competing departments? And isn't a huge chunk of what IT does intended to keep systems operating on a 24x7x365 basis-- also known as the burden of technological progress.

I don't see these gaps as detrimental to an organization. I see them as the challenges of running huge companies that have to remain competitive and answer to demands of shareholders who care little about technological complexity and a whole lot about growth on a clean, white balance sheet. I guess that's the CEO to CIO gap.

Let's put Logisitics/Procurement up against Marketing and see how they compare in effectiveness in executives' eyes. How about putting HR up against Facilities and see where the numbers fall?

This isn't a cop out, it's really a plea for a tad more transparency in how executives evaluate their entire corporate operations. This also isn't a jab at Forrester... They know their audience and that IT is a huge cost center for most companies, so trying to close this gap is a lofty, but necessary goal.

Still, the expectations may be a tad off. The reality is that IT may not be hitting the fullness of business desires, but as a service and servant of corporate sustainability, IT is quite effective at its job.

We all want IT to manage the internal workforce systems and secure all corporate data and be essential implementers of key products and projects and save money, and oh, show us some ROI in the process. Hey, Marketing, show IT the ROI in 2008 and 2009.

IT cannot be the babysitter, the architect, geologist, banker and accountant together, but hey, it seems to be the way many businesses expect IT to become before its fully ready to handle the job (be sure to read Brian Watson's post with the CIO of Union Pacifc who says alignment is a top priority).

IT managers will be happy to know that when it comes to this survey, IT ranked pretty strongly in one key area: Reducing the cost of operations. Sixty-six percent of responders said that technology is "primarily used to reduce the cost of business operations in their firm" and for those firms, 65 percent said IT was, in fact, effective.