Using IT to drive business success

The main goal of information technology (IT) – in any company – is to drive business success. That’s the touchstone…the gauge by which IT-related products, projects and personnel should be assessed. But for IT to really become a key business driver one thing must happen: business leaders and IT professionals have to start communicating effectively with one another. George Galambos, Director, Architecture with IBM Global Services, Canada talks to IT World Canada’s Mari-Len De Guzman about why this communication is so vital. Galambos is one of the architects of the automated banking system now known as the Interac.

You are one of only two Canadians with the title of IBM Fellow. What does that recognition mean to you?

I consider it the ultimate achievement of what one can do at IBM as a technical professional. The title [acknowledges] significant achievement in research and sciences. Some people who carried this title went on to become Nobel Prize winners. Of course, I don’t have any [such] aspirations. What it means for me is simply more opportunity to contribute to the development of IT and [its application] to our customers’ needs. I received the award in June 2003.

What is the most pressing issue faced by business, from a technology perspective?

Reviews I have read and surveys IBM itself conducted indicate that businesses are [moving] from being mainly cost-focused to a growth-focus – but [they are] still paying significant attention to efficiency and cost-containment. [This] creates unique opportunities and challenges for IT professionals. Because they have to be much more in tune with business aspirations and the content of those aspirations, compared with 10, 15 or 20 years ago, when IT’s primary goal was taking repetitive processes and automating them so as to [enhance] quality and reduce the costs surrounding them.

How is IT helping businesses achieve this growth focus?

I would like to emphasize that while there are some statements to the contrary – the last being an article in the Harvard Business Review, which asks ‘Is IT relevant?’ – the best practitioners in information technology have definitely attempted to align with business.

Nonetheless, it is recognized that there is a gap between the way business expresses its requirements and the way IT adopts and implements [and automates] those. IT requires operations on two domains. One, technology should be much more approachable. [This means] changing the vocabulary, changing the tools, changing the interface so business people, who may or may not have an IT training, don’t find it very difficult to [interact] with those tools. The other part of what IT professionals are doing is developing technologies, which more directly represent what the business does.

What is your advice for companies that would like to take advantage of their IT resources to achieve their business goals?

In my view, IT professionals –from the CIO down to the senior IT architect – should be involved in business planning, operations and discussions around business execution.

The business people would have to be more active in helping IT professionals define the value of IT for business. Currently, it is the IT [side] that usually comes up with that statement. In my view, business people could be very helpful in finding value to process automation or for that matter, the reliable operation of an IT system.

An example is always on my mind because I encounter (it) a number of times in my career. We try to convince business to spend time on reliable, highly available IT systems. [But] it’s very difficult to get a budget for it until the business recognizes the value of having highly reliable systems.

So, it’s a two-way process. But essentially business should allow IT to understand better, include more time and session to communicate business desires, and businesses would help IT define what the value of their capability to the business.

Are there companies that still don’t recognize the value of IT to their organization?

Yes, there are. Although I also have to add that [this is changing]. I recently spoke at a conference [where] I met a number of CIOs who are very well aligned with the business. Some of them have a seat in the steering committees and report to CEOs.

Yes, there are a number of other enterprises where IT is merely a utility or supporting organization – also very important but just not recognized as being important to their business strategy.

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