Should IT pros consider themselves in an existential crisis? At a time when technology's importance in business is soaring, the IT department in most companies is not benefiting from the klieg-light attention. In fact, as technology becomes critical to more aspects of the business, the IT group is increasingly seen as an obstacle to be worked around. Avanade did a survey of 1,003 business executives, line-of-business leaders, and IT executives. The survey found that 71% of C-level executives and business unit leaders believe they can make technology decisions for their departments better and faster without the involvement of IT staff. The survey also reported that technology budgets increasingly reside outside of IT. That sure sounds like the makings of an existential crisis to us.
But when we asked IT pros, we got a sanguine response. In our InformationWeek Next-Generation IT Survey of 362 business technology professionals done for this article, we asked how they would describe the alignment between what business unit customers want and what IT delivers. Some 73% say the IT group is perfectly aligned or fairly well aligned to the needs of the business. Clearly IT pros are a bit more optimistic about their ability to serve the business than were the executives in Avanade's survey.
Yet even our IT pros admit that technology leadership is slipping away from them. We asked where new technology initiatives originated within the business. Forty-two percent say they come exclusively or mostly from business units, only 37% say they come equally from business and IT, and just 21% think IT is the primary driver.
As we look through the survey results and listen to tech leaders, two facts seem apparent. The first fact: IT leaders know there's a new game afoot for using technology in business. Businesses need a faster, more-responsive IT infrastructure and delivery process. That's become brutally obvious, and IT leaders are taking steps to reshape what IT does in order to fit the new omnipresence of technology. The second fact: IT leaders aren't changing fast enough. And unlike at any point before in the 40-plus years that IT has existed as a profession, business leaders now have an alternative to in-house IT. In fact, software-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service, and other cloud offerings provide business leaders with a rich array of alternatives — many of which can be used without IT's involvement.
The pressure to do more, faster isn't a surprise to IT leaders. In our 2014 Strategic CIO Survey, we asked about concerns for the IT organization's ability to support business goals. The top concern this year, just as it was in 2013, is that IT can't implement fast enough to meet business goals. This is followed by a trifecta of not having: enough staff, enough budget, and the right skills. The frustration is palpable.
Bottom line, though, is that IT leaders need to change their outlook and tactics, and embrace today as a time of golden opportunity. They need to borrow tactics and strategies from digital-native businesses, and adapt them to their needs, to create an infrastructure that's as responsive as the company demands.
Yes, there are things holding IT back from all it would like to do in serving and leading the business, and certainly the demand for speed and lack of expertise should land high on the list. But executive committees are speaking with their dollars that they consider IT increasing critical. Our Strategic CIO Survey largely finds healthy increases in IT budgets, with only 16% reporting a decrease in budget, 25% with flat budgets, and the rest reporting increases — and 17% with an increase of more than 10%. This rosy view of IT budgets, together with the knowledge that departmental spending on technology is also increasing, indicates that for many businesses, there's sufficient money to support the technology needs of the company. IT needs to understand how to influence all that spending to get the best results — and frankly needs to quit whining about resources. In an economy that's still slow in its recovery, these budget numbers are about as good as you can expect.