Sapphire: IT staff need to talk business

IT can still have a value in a downturn as long as the walls of the datacentre come down

IT can still have a value in a downturn as long as the walls of the datacentre come down and technologists work alongside business people and communicate in terms that the business people understand.

Debating the thorny question of IT value and the gap between IT and the business, a panel of experts and customers at the SAP user conference, Sapphire, took the view that there is much to be gained still from technology investment, but the way that investment is managed is ever more critical.

"Even if a CIO is not reporting to the CEO, they will be reporting to a corporate officer of some kind," said Abbe Mulders, CIO at Dow Corning. "IT cannot do everything. You have to work with your business partners - we call them business clients inside Dow Corning. You need to understand how they work and how they plan to grow the business."

To see quantifiable return on investment on technology, it is important to ensure that the IT people get out of the datacentre and into the guts of the business. "The broad lesson for the IT shop is to look beyond the IT shop and not just focus on cutting costs there. You need to reach out and touch the other parts of the organisation," said Erik Brynjolfsson of the MIT Sloan School of Management.

He added that organisations need to carry on investing and do it wholeheartedly, as halfhearted effort offers no benefit. "Companies which go three-quarters of the way are worse than those which do nothing. Technology is a catalyst, but you need to consider things like incentives and training and so on. Firms that pull together a cluster of practices will do the best," he said.

The overall lesson for IT is not to talk IT. "Regardless of who the CIO is talking to, they have to be talking in business language and about business outcomes," argued Bill McDermott, head of global field sales at SAP.

"If the CIO talks to the CEO about databases and technology stacks, they will get nowhere. You do have to deal with the line of business manager and not the poor CIO stuck in the middle of it all."

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