IT's job is to shape firms

IT should be at the heart of corporate planning and not be seen as an ancillary service.

IT should be at the heart of corporate planning and not be seen as an ancillary service.

That was the view expressed at the recent annual Economist CIO Summit by Christine Ashton, chair of the British Computer Society's Business to IT Interface special interest group and digital business director of BP Gas, power and renewables.

"Viewing IT as a lowly service provider satellite is a narrow definition of the role of IT. But IT is a powerhouse for possibility," she said, giving the example of internet banking where IT is the driving force in every area.

"Our job is to shape the business. This may be a heretical view, but IT should be at the centre and part of corporate planning. Exploring the 'what-ifs' is our job - not consultants' work. IT creates the possibilities, then works with the business at how to convert those possibilities into reality, she added.

Ashton stressed the need for IT managers to have front-end consultancy skills and to have an architect's vision for how things can be levered to enable them to work more effectively within their organisations.

"Consultants are back," she said, "but this time they are internal, not external."

Ashton also advised attendees to consider carefully what they outsource, urging that only commodity activities, such as facilities or the mail room, should be sourced. "Outsourcing the commodities helps IT go further up the value chain."

IT directors should do their best to help their organisation fully appreciate the value that IT brings to all areas.

"The aim should be to have a business where all the direct costs of IT are borne by someone else. You need fully built-up costings to reflect the contribution IT is making." she said. "We are trying to do that in BP."

She said the BCS is working hard to help its members get the balance right between technology and management, and is looking at how they can interface most effectively with their businesses.

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