When it comes to IT maturity in the enterprise, Canada is generally in its infancy.
This according to a recent study by IDC Canada Ltd. that measured the progress of IT in the business environment, where the extent to which corporate information systems serve business needs determine the level of IT maturity.
The maturity model is essentially a gauge of the role of IT in the organization – the more IT is involved as a business partner, the higher is its maturity level, according to David Senf, manager, Canadian application development and infrastructure software at IDC Canada.
“The model looks at the progress of IT with respect to business – from IT serving just basic functions, such as being able to launch a new device or deploy a new application, on one end of the spectrum, all the way to the business being able to extend or expand itself based on IT,” Senf explained.
With the exception of a small segment of the market, Canadian businesses are generally at the “starting point” when it comes to their IT maturity. This means IT departments in many organizations are still performing basic functions of serving technology, rather than business requirements, said Senf.
U.S. companies, however, are demonstrating greater IT maturity than their northern cousins. That discrepancy, noted the IDC analyst, is largely due to the overall makeup of businesses in the two countries.
A large number of businesses in Canada belong to the small and medium-sized category. This contrasts with the U.S., which plays host to many large organizations, with at least 5,000 employees, said Senf. “And those (large) companies have many more moving parts in their IT and their business context, so they need a more sophisticated IT to do what they need to do.”
Despite the not-so-impressive performance of Canadian organizations on the IT maturity scale, businesses are increasingly recognizing their IT department’s role in the overall business growth, according to David McJannet, senior product manager for SQL Server at Microsoft Canada.
“Companies are demanding their IT departments act as key business participants in their overall growth plans – whether it’s entering new markets, whether it’s better serving customers, whether it’s providing better information for decision makers to make more informed and timely decisions,” said McJannet.
But in attempting to reinvent their role as a business partner, IT departments often face challenges that prevent them from delivering what is expected of them from a business perspective, he added.
Some obstacles include hard-coded business processes that are difficult to change and disconnected silos of information that are often difficult to get at.
In implementing a business intelligence application, for instance, oftentimes the challenge begins with where to find the data, how to find it, and how to build composite applications that will allow the business to pull information from various locations, said McJannet.
Achieving better integration between business and IT is also changing the way channel partners and consultants approach their business clients, said Kelly Lautt, business intelligence practice leader for Vancouver-based Habanero Consulting Group.
“It has been rare in this industry for partners to go [to a client] with a business attitude. In the traditional sense, IT solution providers usually go in and say, ‘we’re going to install this huge thing and that’s it.’ It’s traditionally been true also for internal IT departments and it’s not going to help,” Lautt said.
To achieve that IT and business partnership, consultants offering their expertise to a particular company should try to approach a problem as a business need rather than a technology requirement.
“That is where planning the infrastructure really comes in,” she said.
There are a number of mechanisms that can enable the upward progression of IT’s maturity level, according to IDC’s Senf. One of them is having effective service oriented architecture (SOA).
SOA enables organizations to create an IT infrastructure that allows users to have common access to data, services and resources across the network.
Despite the great hype around the benefits of SOA to the enterprise, the uptake in Canada has been relatively slow, said Senf. “Organizations see SOA as just another tool in the toolbox to get done what they needed to do from an IT standpoint. They are gradually understanding that this can help from a broader business perspective, as well.”
Only about 25 per cent of Canadian organizations are either piloting or have broadly deployed SOA, while 11 per cent are planning on deploying this year, said the IDC analyst.
The good news is that Canadian executives are recognizing IT as having more of a strategic importance to the organization, said Senf. Better external relationships with customers, suppliers and partners are also moving up in the hierarchy of business priorities, he added.
“In order to facilitate reaching out to customers, partners or suppliers, certainly one of the underlying things that they can do from a software perspective is to look at SOA,” said Senf. “To better understand what customers want and need (for instance), the ability to have access to better data makes a lot of difference.”