Time to make IT work for business

This week, over 500 CIOs attended Forrester’s IT Forum Emea in Barcelona. Digital businesses need technological innovation and it is up to IT to innovate and deliver value to the business.

There is not much new in that, but there is certainly a sentiment that a business developing products in the digital era needs IT more than ever.

Kevin Gallagher, CIO of Channel 4,  believes that CIOs are now able to engage much more closely with business leaders than in the past. CEOs want to talk about social media, eBusiness, remote working, what applications should the company build, data and the cloud.

Channel 4’s goal is to offer its content at any time, any where and  on any device. This means that IT is developing products, directly for consumers.  So the 4oD video on demand service is multi-platform, available on the  iPad, PS3, YouTube BT Vision, and Virgin Media  among others.

The app costs “low six figure sum” to develop, but the business case was overwhelming, he said , due to the sponsorship opportunities the iPad offered. The app has already made its money back.

How can you be expected to innovate when IT spends over 70% of its valuable time and meagre budget, keeping the lights on?

At Whirlpool, Kevin Summers, global CIO, has transformed IT from a utility to working with the business to innovate IT, by focusing on a handful of key suppliers. Once you start calculating return on investment numbers, you quickly figure out good ideas are not necessarily great ideas, he says.  IT should focus on the applications with strong ROI figures and offload anything else.

If he succeeds, Summers will create a world class IT organisation, allowing IT to move from a technical focus, to a business consultant role. Whirlpool, is looking at the opportunity of the Smart Grid, which will build intelligence into appliances to make them more efficient. Intelligent home appliances are basically endpoint devices on a network. They can be managed by IT, which puts the IT department at the heart of product development.

Now is the time to offload all your day-to-day operational IT work to a third-party. But while the suppliers can and will bring new thinking to the business,  they must prove they can execute day-to-day tasks, before they are tasked with more challenging, value added services.