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Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation

Most employees outside of IT don’t call their IT teams very innovative, yet most believe technology is growing in importance, our research shows. Can IT still be the hero?

Remember when the IT department was the group that saved your bacon time and again? Computer crashes that everyone was convinced wiped out precious corporate data turned into miraculous recoveries. Critical applications that suddenly stopped working were just as suddenly revived. Even the ill-conceived, snarky "reply all" email that was deleted before corporate-wide distribution. Windows upgrades, network upgrades, database upgrades, everything upgrades were handled with aplomb.

What happened? We all know that the demands for IT have moved out of Fix It mode and into Innovation. Businesses need a new kind of IT hero. But when we asked 382 business pros--a mix of IT and non-IT people--about how IT is perceived in their companies, we were shocked by what we found in both the responses and the emotional comments that accompanied them.

The data shows a disparity between how IT views its performance (not bad) and how non-IT pros view it (not good). For example, asked if their companies' business users are at least moderately happy with the quality, timeliness, and cost of IT projects, two-thirds of the IT pros who responded to our survey said yes, but just half of non-IT pros said so. Asked if IT is foremost a support or maintenance organization (as opposed to the innovation engine it might want to be), 39% of IT pros agreed, but 54% of non-IT pros agreed. Again and again, the data shows a disturbing gap between IT's perception of itself as reasonably innovative and effective, and non-IT's lukewarm view.

As powerful as the data is, the free-form responses we received--and we got dozens of them--cast an even harsher light.

First, let's hear from the IT side, which had plenty of hero stories to relay.

"We brought 18 divisions (companies) under the same networks, interfacing at all levels from the top to the bottom. Wow, what a hurdle; these were all separate companies that were bought by my company. A major task."

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The data in this article comes from our 2012 IT Perception Survey of 382 business technology professionals.

This report includes all the IT Perception Survey data, including:
  • Comparisons of the 246 IT pros and 136 non-IT responses
  • Insight on IT's role in mobile policy and social strategy
  • Funding plans for innovation
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Answered another: "We recently upgraded all our servers and desktops to virtualization and cloud computing. We needed more available space and were running out of room in our data center and server room. We also wanted a better way to control our storage and have better security. Our team of IT workers worked on this project day and night and weekends to make this project a success in a timely fashion with hardly any downtime or customer complaints."

Yet for every success story from the IT pros who responded to our survey, there were as many cutting comments describing the IT staff--even from IT pros themselves.

"Here, IT is seen as a drag on innovation. The user perception of IT is very low and generally this perception is ignored by senior IT management as not being of importance," said one respondent.

Said another: "Unfortunately, IT in our business is seen as a roadblock--users want to use personal devices, social networks, cloud services, etc.--and we often prevent that entirely or provide poor internal substitutes. We can't ever seem to coordinate upgrades on time. When I tell people what versions of Office, Web browsers, etc., I have to support, it's embarrassing!"

One sentence seems to sum up the scores of comments we received: "We are seen as a slow and bureaucratic organization."

The data puts an exclamation point on that last point: 57% of IT pros consider their organizations to be distributed, agile, and flexible; just 29% of non-IT pros do.

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Lenny Liebmann
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Lenny Liebmann,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/8/2012 | 5:31:57 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
For years, the primary -- if not the only -- performance metric for IT has been the SLA. This essentially condemns IT to devoting it resources to "keeping the lights on," rather than innovation. As long as SLAs remain the primary metric by which IT measures itself, it will remain primarily focused on risk mitigation rather than innovation.
EricLundquist
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EricLundquist,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2012 | 12:06:55 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
Good point. The SLA has become something often measured that has little effect on how a business performs. Time for something new.
KStone482
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KStone482,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/8/2012 | 8:13:51 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
I came to IT from the business and I have been talking about this for years.
pvan cleef280
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pvan cleef280,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/8/2012 | 11:26:36 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
As long as IT is measured in bits and bytes - it is not business. When IT is measured in dollars and sense (sic) - then it becomes relevant. The often ignored, but potentially, most significant aspect of cloud computing is the ability to put dollars around the delivered value.
EricLundquist
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EricLundquist,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2012 | 12:08:15 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
Good point. Putting dollars on business value is what tech investment is all about. This point is often missed by vendors championing their cloud over another vendor
hohum
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hohum,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/9/2012 | 12:19:59 AM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
The biggest problem is most Corporations see IT as a function of their business
and not an integral part of the business strategy team. You have a bunch of people (admin branch) who have wonderful ideas and strategies and only at their near deployment date do they bother to engage IT. IT is 95% design 5% deployment. Disfunctional Corporations
have disfunctional IT. If you dont engage you stakeholders and departments at inception and be willing to accept active input for product selection, then yes you picked it, you said make it work
these are the outcomes of "your" uninformed untested cosmetic choices.

If your IT department generally seems disinterested in the business processes
you have a problem and its not in your IT department.
EricLundquist
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EricLundquist,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2012 | 12:10:04 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
Interesting. Business becomes more and more tech driven while putting more and more distance between tech and business staffs.
Dave W
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Dave W,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/9/2012 | 7:14:02 AM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
It is interesting that I moved out of corporate IT 5 years ago into a tech company that provides analysis software for healthcare companies. We build product for our clients and in the Darwinian world of tech, if you miss - you die. It keeps you sharp, lean, and focused and we are at pains to integrate "IT" with the business functions because in our case IT is the business. There are many "IT innovations" that have been used in product companies that remain foreign to corporate IT teams. Why is that?

It is hard for corporate IT teams to be innovative with the business when they aren't innovative within themselves...and the business will continue to bypass IT in order to meet its needs elsewhere. If I were to ever return to the corporate IT world, there is much from the product development/delivery lifestyle I would bring with me. It wouldn't be easy, but it would be worth it...for the business.
EricLundquist
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EricLundquist,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2012 | 12:11:01 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
Sounds like you have something to teach those in corporate IT and their managers.
DDubie
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DDubie,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/9/2012 | 2:03:52 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
The disconnect between the perception IT has of its own performance vs the point of the view of the business is prevelant in the U.S., but it's also a reality worldwide. CA Technologies recently completed a study of 800 IT and business leaders worldwide that found the relationship between IT and the business combative in more than one-third of the organizations surveyed. Just 14% of business execs identified IT as the top instigator for innovation and only 19% of biz execs credited IT with leading innovation projects. Not surprisingly, IT's perception of itself was much more positive.

Still the disparity between the perceptions is disturbing for those in IT focused on maintaining operations and delivering services, while innovation projects originate in business strategy meetings. The CA study also revealed that those organizations with structured, formalized processes around incubating and rewardinginnovation were much more successful in their innovation efforts. That means IT needs to find ways to free itself of the necessary yet non-innovative tasks around "keeping the lights on" and become part of the innovation engine for their companies. It won't be easy considering the current perceptions, but it can be done.
Denise Dubie
ca.com/ii
BobAH
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BobAH,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/9/2012 | 3:04:20 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
One of the main issues that I see from both an IT stand point and non IT standpoint is the main issue of involvment. Rarely do most companies involve the IT department actual inovation, they just dump it the IT Departments lap and say do it. I know that my last full time boss (I am unemployed because everyone tells me I am not qualified) was a Techno geek and wanted to try everything to see if it would help us do out job better. She would look at everything, Technology wise and we would have to try it to see if it would work better. We had to learn about emerging Technologies by doing it. We did almost everything inhouse. We were saving the bank huge amounts of money by doing it this way. Since for the most part, we did not make the bank money but a spender of money, no one involved us in planning to speak of. We had to look at a lot of the Technology from a disaster recovery standpoint especially web based Technology. Would it be there, if we were recovering from a disaster standpoint. Since we were running in a realtime evironment including all of the branches that we had, what would happen if we lost that connection, the branch could not open since the data would not be there. If the internet connection goes down (and it does far more than people think) can the company function? If you have a lot of cloud based, no, it will not function. As long as companies do treat IT as a non-money maker then they will have issues. One other thing that is not really noticable from an IT standpoint but is very much there. If it has been outsourced (IT wise) then it will be precieved by the customer as not available when it is needed.
EricLundquist
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EricLundquist,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2012 | 12:13:04 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
Good note and good luck getting back into the workforce.
JimC
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JimC,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2012 | 11:48:02 AM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
"... Our team of IT workers worked on this project day and night and weekends to make this project a success in a timely fashion with hardly any downtime or customer complaints."

Having been an applications programmer myself, that's how we sacrificed part of our lives and earned our promotions. Qualifications for additional responsibilities or a new job were based on a meritocracy and actual proof of one's claims of success. That reward system needs to be reinstated.
EricLundquist
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EricLundquist,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2012 | 12:14:24 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
Good point. Staffs that labor without notice are not good for the staff or the company. Trying to develop a reward system around projects is a good idea.
Wisesooth
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Wisesooth,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2012 | 5:09:00 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
Customers of IT are results oriented and militantly cherish their freedom from IT restrictions. IT is more process oriented, project by project, to keep the company afloat, agile, reliable, and safe from cyber preditors. IT customers couldn't care less about IT effort; they are concerned about their own effort. They hate being called "users" and other "snarl words." IT customers can buy an app for their home device for a nominal amount. They do not understand or even want to know why IT costs so much and takes forever to deliver.

The only way I know that can heal this disconnect is to involve the user community in the process with hands-on participation. That approach promotes customer "buy in" along with an appreciation of the effort required to manage change, protect the company jewels, and provide the agility to compete successfully in the marketplace.

The IT group needs to work on its image ongoing, not milestone by milestone. IT needs to show people how their work affects the organization's capabilities. Above all else, IT should stop using acronyms and talk to non-IT people in their language. Don't say "gigabit"; say 1000-speed. Don't say the backbone of the network is "xGbps"; say the network hardware talks to the computers and each other at 10,000-speed. Get the general idea?
Mark Montgomery
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Mark Montgomery,
User Rank: Strategist
10/11/2012 | 8:22:57 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
Nice work Eric

We've been working at the confluence of IT and organizational management for nearly 20 years now. It's really good to see the industry trade publications placing the topic appropriately at the top of the pile of priorities. Some of the related challenges have been cultural, some structural as in hardware and software architecture in neural networks, some educational and unfortunately some cross the line of unhealthy industry alliances that favor IT managers working for vendors despite being on the paycheck of employers. More than one leading consultant/analyst has stated the latter in public. High turnover rates haven't helped, nor has ignorance of IT on boards and the ad spend of incumbents and related influence- conferences, and everything else in the ecosystem -- paid bloggers, etc., certainly hasn't done anything for those of us working to overcome the problem.

The good news apart from higher visibility as shown in this story is that a combination of basic R&D in the public sector and applied R&D in labs like ours have finally come together with advances in underlying hardware, data standards, education/awareness, and frankly economic necessity to overcome the challenges of sameness in IT, commoditization in the enterprise-but ever rising costs, with an emerging new generation of technologies designed from inception for the network environment--not just for innovation, but also crises prevention, differentiation and continuous improvement. If all goes reasonably well it should not be too far in the future that we see wide adoption of intelligent neural networks that better align interests between individuals and their organizations, including IT teams.
jacoblamm
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jacoblamm,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/12/2012 | 12:33:03 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
I suspect that part of the disconnect between IT perceiving itself as an innovator and the Business perceiving IT as an innovator has to do with IT classifying GǣinventionsGǥ and GǣimprovementsGǥ as GǣinnovationsGǥ. Business has a higher bar G only those inventions and improvements that end up having a market disruptive effect truly qualify as GǣinnovationsGǥ.
Jacob Lamm
mchesmore503
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mchesmore503,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/17/2012 | 6:33:12 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
Several points are dead on here. How do you not treat IT as a service organization or support function when SLA stands for Service Level Agreement. In many peopleGs view IT is a service/support function and thatGs where it ends, they are not a partner, the business pays them for a service. Wright or wrong that is the truth in many organizations. Should that change? Maybe.
An area that needs to be addressed, although I do not frequently see it even mentioned in conversations such as this one, is security. Full disclosure, this is my field and discipline by choice. I fully understand that we (security folks) are a major impediment in letting a company operate at the bleeding edge. Believe me; we hear your frustration with us. The problem I see with this article and frankly this way of thinking is that it only takes into account the part of the picture that supports the authorGs point of view. There is no mention of risk management nor the threat to an organization by not performing solid due diligence. What about the risk to the organization as a whole by just running forward with an idea that seems to improve productivity? If you try and inject any measure of risk management or threat assessment/awareness you are branded as a Gǣdrag on innovationGǥ or Gǣthat bunch that always says noGǥ. Fifteen years ago we lived and worked in a different world. Cyber threat was a bunch of kids looking to use your hacked server to share MP3Gs. Today the landscape is so dramatically different that you cannot even compare the two. TodayGs cyber threat is well organized, well-funded, with an excellent strategic plan and 1000 times the resources you have to defend against them. The threat today is only interested in separating your organization from every penny they have. Threats have no rules, laws, morals, ethics nor feelings to answer to. They are an extreme model of being focused solely on results. The result comes unfortunately at our organizations cost. Cost not only in real dollars but in losses to productivity and innovation precisely because we have to take such extreme precautions to not become a victim. Of course the business unit sees any type of risk management as an obstacle; we are designed to be just such a thing. Keep in mind that a speed bump slows traffic in both directions equally well. Surely many readers will throw up their hands at this statement and think to themselves, same old security crap, but unfortunately this is the world we live in. Ignoring something does not make it go away. We would all prefer that there were no bad people in the world and that the only risk associated with innovation was a failed attempt at doing something different but that is simply not the case.
While I too am saddened that IT has fallen from our once really fun role as innovators and champions of the latest greatest new IT gadget or thing, after almost 20 years in multiple IT disciplines I have hopefully grown mature enough to look at the whole picture and not just the immediate gratification.

Doublewood
IT Reformer
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IT Reformer,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/29/2012 | 5:21:52 PM
re: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation
This is a very insightful article on the perennial challenges the IT Ecosystem faces with many CIO's chasing "shiny objects" and IT mission owners often feeling dis-serviced by the traditional marketing approaches aimed at CIOs.

Four years ago, a dozen standards bodies, think tanks and universities forged a public/private partnership at the urging of Congress and the White House called the IT Acquisition Advisory Council (IT-AAC). This was driven by recognition the statistics showing 75% failure rates of all major federal IT programs. IT-AAC establishes a true IT honest broker that service the needs of the IT consumer, providing a shared cost knowledge exchange that is fills a huge void in the $3.8Trillion dollar IT market. Though the Federal IT market is often years behind the commercial IT market, this initiative could help them leap frog commercial IT in an effort to avert Sequestration's impact.
marc112
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marc112,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/1/2014 | 1:33:41 PM
Considering how much these days businesses rely on internet
Considering  how much these days businesses rely on internet to conduct their activity, IT will play a major role inside any company years from now too. The IT department is the one to smooth things over for the others to do their job without encountering any unpleasant events. They are the ones to know which tools on http://www.trendmicro.com/us/home/products/software/password-manager/index.html to making things easier for everyone.
Google in the Enterprise Survey
Google in the Enterprise Survey
There's no doubt Google has made headway into businesses: Just 28 percent discourage or ban use of its productivity products, and 69 percent cite Google Apps' good or excellent mobility. But progress could still stall: 59 percent of nonusers distrust the security of Google's cloud. Its data privacy is an open question, and 37 percent worry about integration.
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