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IT directors at last week's Forrester GigaWorld IT Forum were presented with the familiar concept of creating business value with IT, but with a twist.
Rather than running the IT department as a service to the business, delegates were urged to run their operations as a business within a business, complete with research and development, product and marketing functions.
Martha Bennett, vice-president for research at Forrester, told Computer Weekly that research and development should be the testing ground for new ideas where the IT department tolerated failure.
Marketing was crucial for the IT department. "IT people are lousy at marketing," Bennett said. She urged users to ensure that their department presented a consistent brand to the business. "Always ensure the business knows IT can make things poss-ible," she said.
Bennett also challenged the traditional wisdom under which an IT director or chief information officer has to have a seat on the board to have influence. "The danger I see is that people say IT must have a place at the boardroom table and all is lost if IT reports to the chief financial officer."
Bennett said CIOs need to have a level of firmness to be able to tell the business what is and what is not possible.
"You need the right people in charge of IT who can engage in a dialogue with the business and achieve the processes that need to be in place," she said.
The importance of ensuring the business understands the limits of what the IT department can deliver can be clearly seen during mergers and acquisitions, when IT operational efficiencies usually take longer than expected in the business plan.
Philippe Chalon, CIO at Total Fina Elf, said the company's merger involved 1,500 IT sites, 2,500 IT staff, 80,000 desktops and 5,000 applications, and it took four years to complete.