Ready or Not:IS I.T. Prepared for the E-business Boom?

Value of the IT Department

The importance of IT to business activity might commonly be thought to have increased in recent years, and our survey confirms this. 58% of respondents agreed with the statement “Over the past two years the importance of IT to our corporate strategy has increased much faster than other functional areas within my organization.” Only 15 % disagreed with this statement.

Respondents were reasonably positive about the role that the IT department plays in most organizations. Our questions first focused on the service orientation of the department. 62% of respondents believed that “The mandate of the IT department is to serve users.” Only 13% disagreed with this statement. In asking this question we hoped to elicit a positive response, and the departments themselves might take heart from this positive indicator of the perception of their desire to provide good service to their users.

Many Users Still Not Satisfied

We next asked managers and professionals how satisfied they believed users were with the IT service provided. Only 43% believed that “In my organization most users are reasonably satisfied with the IT department.” This should cause us a high degree of concern. While it is usually thought that there exists a desire to provide good service to users, our survey reveals that we are succeeding at this in less than half of our companies. This clearly indicates a need to give close attention not only to satisfying user needs, but also to measuring the degree of user satisfaction and to finding more effective ways of improving satisfaction when measurements show a need for improvement.

The Skills Gap Continues

One of the main factors influencing the ability of the organization to provide good IT service is the recruiting of appropriate staff. We were keen to understand how managers and professionals across Canada viewed the problem, and our findings point to the need for more IT-related skills training. Only 29 % of respondents agreed that, “My organization is able to acquire and retain qualified IT staff.” This suggests that over two thirds of the nations businesses are unable to staff IT personnel adequately. If this is indeed the case, there can be little doubt of the need for greater corporate and governmental resources to support IT-related skills development.

High Degree of Centralisation

The ITX Survey also examined the extent to which the IT department has been decentralized. We were trying here to understand how pervasive IT capability had become in the organization – how much had individual functional areas

acquired their own IT capability? Only 24% of our respondents believed that “The Governance of the IT department within my organization has become decentralized.” We don’t think that this response really helps us understand the pervasiveness of IT skills in the organization but it does tell us that there is still a high degree of centralization in IT departmental activity. As we study this area further it will be important to examine the relationship between centralized IT activities and business performance.

Our focus on the IT department has raised serious questions about our current capability to exploit technology in Canadian business. Every forecast we see today tells us that B2B E-commerce will dramatically increase in importance to Canadian companies. As our survey has shown, most of us believe that we are already behind the US in E-business development in Canada. The IT department’s role, and our overall IT capability in general, will have a direct impact on how we fare. It is not over-dramatic to assert that the ITX Survey has revealed serious weaknesses in our IT skills capability.

Simply put, the service of our IT departments is usually poor, and we can’t get the right people to make it better.

Project Management

Many companies today have embarked upon radical and extremely expensive projects with high expectations of substantial financial return. It is our belief that by and large these projects are well founded – based on reasonable expectations of their outcomes. Our respondents agreed. 60% of them felt that “My organization invests in IT projects that have demonstrable business value.” This was encouraging. It indicated a strong feeling that we knew what we wanted to do with the technology and showed perhaps a broadening of this beyond strictly IT-related areas.

But Can We Do It?

As the clich’ goes, however: “It’s one thing to understand what you want to do but quite another to be able to do it!”

The ITX Survey reveals a serious weakness in our project management capability. Only 34% said that they thought “My organization practices good project management”, an appalling statistic given the proliferation of project-based activity in Canadian organizations. It might reasonably be argued on the basis of these findings that organizations should give serious attention to their project management capability.

We asked a further question that looked specifically at how senior managers were oriented towards effective IT project management. Only 36% of respondents felt that “Senior management in my organization understands the project management issues associated with IT.”

Project Management Education

Project management will increase in importance to organizations. Radical change within organizations – especially change related to major IT projects – is becoming commonplace, and the survey shows that we have a serious weakness in managing this. In recent years we have seen a shift in emphasis in most experts’ thinking in this area. Whereas in the past, project-management education focused largely on technical project-management skills – for example, different forms of charting and planning – there is now recognition that these must be combined with effective change-management and leadership.

In an effort to understand this area better Athabasca University has recently conducted a detailed survey examining project management itself, the results of which will soon be available. The survey includes a look at appropriate ways to provide education that will aid the ac-quisition of urgently required project-management skills.

In the next issue of CIO Canada we’ll look at Senior Management, and what our respondents thought about their capability to lead and manage the B2B revolution.

The Athabasca University-led research team that conducted the study is Peter Carr, Richard Irving and Robert Robinson. Peter Carr is Director of Athabasca’s online MBA in Information Technology Management and Associate Director of the University’s online post-graduate business school. Ric Irving is an Associate Professor of Management Science/MIS in the Schulich School of Business atYork University in Toronto and specializes in organizational use of IT and the use of IT in healthcare. Robert Robinson is an Associate Professor at Ryerson Polytechnic University, having previously worked for NorTel.