Technology pros gaining ever-larger voice in buying

IT managers have still got it.

The “it” is a large hand in influencing IT purchasing decisions by Canadian business. Senior IS professionals have been key advisors for IT purchases for a long time and not so long ago, it was IS that controlled not just the choice of IT, but the budgets, too.

Times have changed, and while they may not administer the required budgets or control the corporate purse strings in a manner they once did, medium and large organizations throughout Canada still look to IT specialists to advise and recommend what IT to buy and from whom.

This was confirmed by a recent IDC Canada survey of more than 200 business and IT professionals in medium and large Canadian organizations where IT managers were most often identified as those having the largest influence throughout many stages of IT purchases for hardware, software and services.

How Canadian organizations spend their IT dollars and with whom has a great deal to do with the say-so of those with technical backgrounds.

The result certainly doesn’t dispel the importance of others within organizations, particularly CFOs and CEOs as the final voice of approval for purchases. But it strongly suggests there is a great deal of trust by those senior business executives placed in the recommendations and opinions of IT managers.

Given the complexity and ever-changing nature of information technology, IT managers and other senior IS professionals remain an important and typically essential voice in determining what investments must be made. It is the IT manager who helps many businesses understand the practical application of technology.

In an earlier time in history, they were not always fully aware of value from a business perspective and over the years, the evolution of decision-making authority for IT has seen a shift to the most senior of business executives within organizations, as well as to individual business unit executives. The thinking was that business professionals may more clearly recognize business needs and requirements, and can effectively connect this to IT investment.

The model of paying for IT likewise shifted as organizations sought to allocate the cost to individual business departments of IT services and resources used. Budgetary dollars for IT in many large businesses come from more discrete business unit sources that collectively pay for the cost of IT similar to other services, based on need and utilization. For many organizations, gone are the days when IT and IS were simply cost centres and voids into which many continually and extravagantly poured money.

So while business and senior organization executives today more typically identify need and directly allocate IT spending dollars, when it comes down to making choices about technology and vendors, IDC research suggests business still turns to the IT managers. The reason may be that these professionals understand the usefulness of technology better than most others within Canadian organizations.

The role of many IT managers has evolved to become one of key advisor status in figuring out the fit between technology and business requirements – both present and future. These individuals must now, more than ever, be aware, not just of technology’s inner workings, but also make their best bets on strategic suppliers, particularly when it comes to gambling on which vendors will be around for the long haul.

So much new technology, so many new entrants into a multitude of equipment market segments, and a highly volatile and uncertain state of competition, particularly in areas of hardware, makes it necessary to have a broad understanding of vendors and the technology paths available.

IT managers must invariably be more strategic thinkers today. Where once it may have been acceptable to address the here and now of business requirements through IT investments, buying based on short-term or more immediate need, today’s IS decision makers must be more in tune with all options available.

More precisely, the evolutionary path of any technology chosen must ultimately enable future business requirements and competitive advantage. So decisions must be based upon a much more intimate understanding of vendors, technologies, plus the histories and futures of those companies.

IDC research shows many Canadian decision makers also seek the guidance and insight of certain vendors. Even hardware makers, some of whom might have in the past been designated mere “box pushers,” are today considered by some customers to be absolutely essential voices in technology purchases.

Going forward, more organizations – especially those in large business – are looking to bridge the gap between business requirement and technology understanding through the appointment of individuals whose jobs are to ensure IT investments serve to meet specific and measurable business results. It is a role that combines CIO with that of a chief technology officer and a senior business executive, and their recommendations become the driving forces behind purchases.

Many major financial institutions today, for example, have designated such individuals and more are appearing, particularly in large corporations.

But the key influencers to these influencers will no doubt continue to be those within business who’ve been there all along and will continue to be there in the future. They’ve managed to understand IT for a long time.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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