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1/26/2007
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IT Culture: Too Safe For Comfort

InformationWeek Research finds many IT shops are overly cautious when it comes to experimenting with new technology. It's time to get back to innovation that drives business.

Business technologists need to show some guts. The typical IT department is playing it too safe, and CIOs acknowledge their companies must get more aggressive in how they invest in and use new technologies. IT organizations need to shake off the cost-cutting mentality of the recent past and get on, once again, with innovation.

Reebok's Rammel is using the ideas behind fantasy football for real IT success

Reebok's Rammel is using the ideas behind fantasy football for real IT success

Photo by Preston Mack/Redux Pictures
Those are the hard realities of InformationWeek's just-completed CIO Agenda survey. Play-it-safe IT cultures have become the norm, our findings show, with about three-quarters of the 150 CIOs and tech VPs who completed the survey describing their IT strategies and investment levels as moderate or conservative. A surprising 41% have a wait-and-see philosophy when it comes to adopting new products. Nearly a third describe their IT shops as being constrained. A quarter label themselves reactionary.

None of which portrays business technology teams as the engines of new ideas they should be. Nor is it a strong base upon which to build as IT investment increases after years of do-more-with-less thinking.

The numbers indicate that tech leaders need to snap their associates out of their comfort zones. The approach an IT organization takes to innovation and experimentation reveals much about that company's overall attitude toward IT--how decisions get made, the level of resources that go into developing and implementing technology, how employees collaborate, and risk tolerance. Ultimately, the culture of the IT department determines whether technology is a driving force in a business or a mere support center.

There are exceptions to the rule--IT organizations constantly on the lookout for a piece of software or a gadget or a new process that might help their companies or appeal to customers. Many CIOs surveyed describe their organizations as ambitious and even intellectual.

Investment PhilosophyReebok's Onfield Apparel Group is one of those. To improve its chances of being ready with the right gear for Sunday's Super Bowl game, it's incorporating Las Vegas oddsmakers' stats into its forecasting tools and looking at ways to use game theory models (the same kind used in fantasy football) to improve predictions.

Reebok's IT culture encourages experimentation, says Doug Rammel, VP of information systems, technology, and integration operations for the group. Reebok, acquired by Adidas last year, wants its people "to experiment with new technologies, to do new things, and to fix things you didn't even know were broken," he says.

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