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IT strategy: More baubles

’Tis the season to be jolly. As we near the end of this most singular of
years, which has seen our financial system tremble in the shockwaves from the
worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the generosity of many
enterprises is staggering. We are not talking about Christmas largesse here, but
the billions of pounds being splashed out on information technology that has
little or no benefit for the splashers.

Quite how many billions of pounds is open to question as there are more
estimates on IT spend than a gaggle of pundits could shake a bundle of sticks
at. But all those studies agree we are talking about vast amounts of dosh: the
sort of money that would keep your average Russian oligarch in aluminium mines,
dinners with retired cabinet ministers and premiership football clubs.

Even the latest estimates from IT analyst firm
Gartner,which
have recently been savagely downgraded in light of the worsening economic
turmoil, forecast that global IT spending will reach a whopping $3.5 trillion
next year. This represents growth of 2.3% year on year in even this most dismal
of financial climates.

You might be forgiven for thinking that, in this chilly financial climate, IT
expenditure must centre on critical technologies that absolutely cannot be
avoided. You might also be forgiven for thinking that, over and above these
must-haves, there will only be a relatively small volume of nice-to-have
offerings ­ the technologies which can deliver tangible business benefits and
fast return on investment ­ that will be approved.

And it is certainly true that, as we predicated at the start of the year,
firms are being forced to tighten their IT belts. Many big ticket upgrades have
been shut down and operational budgets for hardware in particular ­ but also for
software, telecoms and services ­ are facing cuts of varying degrees. It would
seem that this reining in of spending is occurring not just across the US and
western Europe, but emerging regions as well. This is all very well, but is it a
bit late to be starting that process at this stage?

For too many firms the cut backs are simply not being targeted effectively.
The problem for many enterprises is that IT is quite literally out of control.
Recently published research based on a global survey of 749 CEO and CIO-level
executives commissioned by the non-profit, independent
IT
Governance Institute
(ITGI) paints a disturbing, but not wholly
unexpected picture. It warns that many firms are wasting money on IT because
they simply do not know what their IT is doing to help their core business.

The scale of this disconnect revealed by the study is staggering. It notes
that 40% of the organisations surveyed said they were not convinced that their
businesses were getting significant value from IT activities.

This dismal report then moves to the plainly disturbing. It states that one
in five organisations “do not determine their IT resource requirements based on
business priorities”. So what do they base them on? The phases of the moons of
Jupiter? The entrails of a recently deceased chicken? Mystic Meg? Midnight
séance sessions in the server room?

Keeping up the disturbing theme, ITGI’s research points out that 54% of
respondents have implemented, or are in the process of implementing, performance
measurement for IT. This means 46% have not implemented, or are not in the
process of implementing, performance management for IT.

It is amazing that this lesson seems so hard for enterprises to learn. It is
basic common sense, not a proposition of Wittgenstein. Improved IT governance is
the name of the game. Only firms that have developed coherent ways of monitoring
technology performance can ever hope to be able to measure the effectiveness of
their IT systems.

Such organisations are able to determine if they are getting value for money
from their technology spending and identify where additional spending can do
most good. They are also best placed to find out what IT systems they will be
better off getting rid of entirely.

In this column throughout 2008, I’ve flagged up various crackpot schemes or
new-fangled things the IT world churns out regularly to keep businesses confused
and spending in fear and loathing as they search for the holy grail of
competitive advantage. In our September issue, I talked about information
overload and digital addiction. ITGI’s study shows companies, at best, not
buying the hype: at worst, it showed how many of them were just lost and losing
out.

It comes as no surprise that ITGI found the best performing and most
innovative companies were those that were getting the best performance and
business value from their IT expenditure. These are the firms that recognise IT
should be fundamental to their business and that the right technology can be a
potent weapon to deliver real competitive advantage. These are the firms that
are most likely to weather the current economic storm and still be around to
celebrate next Christmas. I am less optimistic about the ones that spend long,
lonely nights in the server room with a telescope, a chicken and Mystic Meg.

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