For as long as there have been business computers there seems to have been a gulf between employees who understand the technology and those who understand the business. But it appears that this divide is being bridged.
Computer Weekly's latest quarterly CIO Index shows that in February 37% of senior IT managers in the UK agreed strongly that communication with the business was improving, compared with 27% in November last year.
This jump of 10 percentage points comes at a time when businesses are relying more than ever on their IT investments. For example, one UK company that has executed a remarkable turnaround, Marks & Spencer, is investing heavily in radio frequency identification technology to improve inventory control, and in its website to improve sales and customer retention.
One reason for improved communication with board directors could be the increased efforts being made by IT departments to measure their contribution to the business. The latest CIO Index survey found that 55% agreed that they were systematically measuring the benefits of IT, up from the previous quarter, when 42% of IT directors said they had measures in place to track IT's benefits.
However, at the time, Andrew Likierman, a professor at the London Business School, warned that organisations often used the wrong measures to monitor IT's success.
Likierman, a non-executive director of Barclays and the Bank of England, said, "The IT function should be clearly linked to organisational objectives. Cost, services and risk have to be anchored in the organisation and not in the IT function."
The survey also found that 20% of IT directors agreed strongly that business processes were well integrated with IT systems, compared with 16% in November last year. In April last year - our inaugural survey - 70% of top IT management said they thought it was getting easier to demonstrate the business value of IT, compared with 66% in February this year.
The latest survey also showed that 57% of CIOs thought end-users were sufficiently trained to use systems effectively - precisely the same proportion as in our first survey last April.
Managing change continues to pose a challenge, with 55% of respondents saying it is getting easier, compared with 61% in our inaugural survey.
Myron Hrycyk, chief information officer at NYK Logistics, said that IT has to demonstrate its credibility with senior management before IT managers get a good hearing with board-level directors.
"It is great when you have ideas about how technology can improve the business operation or create a new service. However, if you are saying, 'I would like £100,000 for a speculative project', you are more likely to get a favourable hearing if you have earned the credibility and trust of your business colleagues," he pointed out in a recent article for Computer Weekly.
Another reason for the improvement seen in communication could be because IT management is becoming more professional. Nearly all of those surveyed (96%) agreed that IT management was getting on to a more professional footing, up from 89% in our inaugural survey.
The CIO Index is Computer Weekly's quarterly online survey of IT directors in the Computer Weekly 500 Club. The research is conducted by our parent company Reed Business Information's market research department, strictly adhering to the Market Research Society's code of conduct.
In addition to analysis of key metrics for IT expenditure in UK businesses, the CIO Index tracks technology adoption and highlights trends in the business readiness of emerging technologies.
Myron Hrycyk on bridging the gap between IT and the business
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