Thought for the day: Business sense is vital for IT success

Technology advances have put IT directors in the hot seat. Let's give them a better head for business too, says Sir John Harvey...

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Technology advances have put IT directors in the hot seat. Let's give them a better head for business too, says Sir John Harvey Jones.




Since the early 1980s, the constructive use of technology has been one of the absolute essentials of competitive success for a business. What is difficult for people to remember is just how primitive technology was then.

One of the biggest issues for business people in those days was that, although they might have known what they wanted from IT, the capabilities were rarely there.

By contrast, today's companies have, for the first time, a full hand of integrated technologies. They have such incredible computing power at their disposal that technology often exceeds requirements.

The technology world no longer plays catch-up to business desires. Rather, very often, technology can truly be ready and available to be applied to business needs.

Costs have fallen to the extent that even a small business can afford to be totally electronic. One mouse click can update the content in your customer database, amend your distribution system, change an invoice address on your accounts software and send a marketing letter to a customer.

But one of the biggest developments by far is the potential to transform business decision making, and hence business success, through the IT tools at your disposal.

Today's 24-hour, seven-days-a-week culture means business decisions are made under increasing pressure. Business stakeholders - customers, partners, shareholders and employees - insist on almost instant action. Previously, keeping up with these sorts of demands would have been almost impossible because the information was not available to make such swift decisions.

Accessing accurate information in good time, analysing it and acting upon it has always been the essence of good decision making. Today it is possible for IT systems to create instantaneous processes that extract the required information - whether from a sales order, a sales report or a website transaction - and direct it automatically to the decision making unit.

An even bigger development is the ability of IT to help capture and understand these flows of business information in real time. It is now becoming possible to spot business trends as they happen. Businesses need no longer be taken by surprise.

All this, of course, puts increasing pressure on the IT director. It is he or she who has to make the decisions to put all this amazing IT potential into practice.

One issue seems to hold as true today as it did 25 years ago: there is still not enough interchange between IT people and business people. IT people, although they now have a more rounded understanding of business issues, are still apt to focus on the nitty gritty - the bits and bytes relating to a technology decision.

Meanwhile, the people who are purely focused on the business dynamic often struggle to appreciate what is and what is not technologically possible.

So when IT does not come up to scratch, it is very often because the technology was chosen for its own sake, rather than to address the underlying business issues.

In this environment, in which the IT director is increasingly called on to make what are, in effect, strategic business decisions, I believe there are two key things any business should look to do.

Firstly, they should give every IT director the opportunity to spend time as a business line manager.

Secondly, although it would be an extra burden amid all the other issues they need to grapple with, it would make enormous sense if more IT directors were encouraged to study for MBAs.

What do you think?

Should IT directors be given the chance to gain a more holistic view of their company?  Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Sir John Harvey Jones will be speaking at FileNet's UserNet conference at the Gloucester Hotel, London on 18-19 November. For further information, see the events calendar at

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