Quebecers know how to align IT with business

When it comes to aligning IT with business, Quebecers know best.

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Enterprises in Quebec report higher levels of satisfaction with their IT effectiveness compared to all other provinces in Canada, according to a new survey from CA Inc.

The survey, which found Quebec placing more value in IT governance, also suggests investments in IT governance tools lead to increased IT efficiency and reductions in costs.

The 2009 CA Canada Lean Governance Survey polled 250 technology and business managers from the manager to CEO level at organizations across Canada with 750 employees or more.

Eighty-eight per cent of Quebec business managers think IT is very effective at aligning IT and business priorities, compared to 41 per cent of business managers in other provinces.

Sixty-two per cent of Quebec business managers think their IT departments are accountable and transparent and 56 per cent say IT is effective at controlling or reducing IT costs. Meanwhile, 32 per cent of business managers in the rest of Canada think IT is accountable and transparent and 35 per cent believe that IT is effective with costs.

Organizations polled in Quebec placed more emphasis on IT process improvement and good governance practices, states CA.

CA also found the organizations displaying “significantly more business-side willingness to invest in IT governance processes and frameworks, as well as IT service portfolio management tools.”

In Quebec, 81 per cent of respondents consider managing IT complexity and 62 per cent view controlling or reducing IT costs as top priorities; whereas managing IT complexity is a top priority for 47 per cent of respondents and controlling or reducing costs for 59 per cent of those polled from the rest of Canada.

Enterprises in Quebec consistently exhibit more coherent and better IT business integration, according to Warren Shiau, lead analyst of IT research with The Strategic Counsel, a market research firm that conducted the survey for CA Canada.

“All the work that we’ve done in Quebec, going back around four to five years … we’ve always gotten consistent results,” he said.

Quebec’s strength in IT-business alignment also extends to all areas of enterprise infrastructure, from IT governance to identity and access management to infrastructure optimization, he pointed out.

“It doesn’t particularly matter what the area is … there always seems to be more coherence between IT and business,” he said.

There are a number of factors that could be contributing to Quebec’s strengths, according to Roch Cousineau, vice-president of the Quebec region at CA Canada.

One may be culture. “People in Quebec are very communicative, very verbal, and I think it’s found its way in the culture of business. People talk openly about their various projects and initiatives so it leaves for more open communications,” said Cousineau.

Another factor may be the presence of smaller-sized firms, where communication between business owners and IT managers might be easier because there is less hierarchy. They may, for example, work in the same office, he said.

Quebec also has long history of innovation and invests earlier than other parts of Canada in governance tools, said Cousineau. “The IT budget and specifically IT projects are more aligned with business initiatives and having those tools implemented, they can monitor the progress of those various projects,” he said.

“If you implement tools that force the organization to really collect metrics on IT projects and make sure that those IT projects are aligned with business initiatives, then obviously, business owners will feel that IT is driving value and investing in IT budgets wisely,” he explained.

Cousineau pointed to project and portfolio management (PPM) software as one example of automation software that links the investment in IT governance to IT efficiency and cost-cutting.

“The beauty of a PPM tool is it allows senior executives to have visibility through dashboards on the status of various IT projects. In other words, it forces a discipline within the IT organization,” said Cousineau.

Automation tools also free up IT resources to work on more strategic initiatives rather than spending their time “keeping the lights on,” he explained, which could result in more revenue for the enterprise.

The Quebec results are a good example of how concentrating on IT governance can increase IT efficiency, said Shiau. But the concentration on IT priorities must come from both IT and the business, he pointed out.

Shiau suggested standardization of processes, standardization of management procedures for IT and IT process improvement. “Think of a business in an operational sense,” he said.

Mutually supporting IT priorities that feed into good IT governance are also based on replicability, according to Shiau. “You want to be able to repeat good things,” he said.

Shiau defines IT governance as the effective management of IT services and resources that are based on policy and procedure.

“You can have effective management without really having policies and procedures, just by having the sheer force of a really good personality,” he said.

But when that one core manager leaves, you have no policies and procedures left in place for someone else to pick up, he pointed out.

“You could have another manager come in who just doesn’t have that same individual thing and then you’re lost. This is why good IT governance has to be based on policies and procedures,” he explained.

The survey also found a 17 per cent increase in business managers’ ratings on IT effectiveness “across the board in every category” from all provinces. 

“Fifty per cent of business managers think IT is effective at IT process improvement, compared to 29 per cent in 2008,” states CA. “Fifty six per cent of business managers perceive IT as being effective at aligning IT with business priorities in 2009, compared to 39 per cent in 2008.”

Andy Woyzbun, lead analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., attributed the across-the-board improvement to increased dialogue between business and IT during “touch economic opportunities.”

“The whole economic recession forced a more intimate dialogue between IT and the business, so in that sense, I’m not surprised that the stats are improved,” he said.

There has also been a lot of activity in terms of confirming the value of IT expenditures, according to Woyzbun.

“We’ve seen a lot of situations where some of the cuts that organizations made to IT were perhaps less severe than they were to other parts of the organization, which kind of reiterated the increasing importance that organizations place in their IT,” he said.

While the Quebec numbers are clearly better than those from the rest of Canada, noted Woyzbun, they are still a lot worse than 100 per cent.

“Generally speaking, there is still a gap between business expectations and IT performance, so clearly, we are moving in the right direction, but we’ve still got a significant gap to close,” he said.

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