What do these people in IT do?

A recent meeting of chief executives identified three IT issues above all others. Was one of them investment in new technology?...

A recent meeting of chief executives identified three IT issues above all others. Was one of them investment in new technology? Perhaps the key issue was open source software? No? OK, it must have had something to do with the Web, then.

Not at all. Their top concerns were, in order, security, lack of return on investment, and the negative perception of the IT department. As one chief executive said, "What do all those people do in IT?"

Back-to-basics stuff then. This column has recently looked at security - finding out exactly what your business peers mean when they say "security," and taking care of it. So let us focus on how to be seen as an investment, and improving the perception within your organisation of your team and of IT in general.

You and the company are one. Your mission must be everyone's mission. If you as an organisation aim to be the number one car rental firm in the world, that must be your IT mission as well. I have learned the hard way on this one.

A few years ago I oversaw a department whose aim was to "always exceed our customers' expectations". That was not a mission statement, it was a suicide note - we didn't know who our customers were, we had no idea what they expected of us, and had no chance of meeting, let alone exceeding their expectations.

Make your strategies as one. The organisation's strategy and your IT strategy must be the same. This is easy to do - ensure that within the wider company document, IT indicates how you will achieve it, and vice-versa. Illustrate exactly how each and every IT activity and project relates to the financial or customer aims of the company. There is no such thing as an "IT" project - everything must save or make money, win or keep customers, or motivate and retain staff.

Deliver real project benefits. The main reason projects are labelled failures is because companies see few tangible benefits, and that is often because these were never properly identified in the first place.

Know where you are going with projects, what the outcome will be, and what is the real benefit. Then ensure that benefit is delivered.

Be a driver not a passenger. IT is no longer a "tool" to simply put in place what is asked of us. We are as much "business" people as anyone else in our organisations, and we can demonstrate that, each and every day, by focusing not on what the technology is, but on what it does, and can do, for our organisations.

Become the "provider of choice". Invite a potential outsourcer in to bid against you to run your IT services - make sure things are in good shape first, of course. Also, consider becoming a profit centre by providing services for outside companies.

Forget service level agreements. The term "provider of choice" is an important and powerful one, combining an ability to balance our service between what our company wants, and what it can afford.

Tear up service level agreements that measure your performance with meaningless statistics and introduce service charters - a partnership between you and other departments, showing who does what, why, and when.

David Taylor is president of IT directors association Certus

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