Heads of IT must promote cultural changes in the business at the same time as using IT to mobilise the workforce.
Business is changing. We work in a culture where demands for an increased work-life balance are being taken seriously, more people have flexible working arrangements than ever before and younger, technologically-savvy people have greater management responsibility. Business is changing at a fundamental, cultural level.
IT decision makers are also feeling the change. The Vodafone/CIO Connect Census 2004 shows that the role of the chief information officer is no longer about choosing from alternatives such as innovating or reducing costs; having business acumen or technology knowledge; or demonstrating change leadership or running systems reliably - it is about replacing the "or" with "and".
On the one hand, users are asking for a more flexible style of working and, at the same time, IT departments are being asked to deliver more for less. The CIO Connect Census reveals that more than 80% of IT investments now include the costs of business change as well as technology.
Mobile IT is at the heart of this conundrum. Analyst firm Ovum predicts that 60% of enterprises plan at least one wireless data project in 2005. The recent launch of 3G business services in the UK has also raised the stakes by increasing the options available. Remote access to the internet and office-based systems is quicker, more productive and more effective than ever before.
The cultural part of the equation is no doubt important. Vodafone UK has recently commissioned qualitative research with UK opinion leaders to assess the likely reaction to the wireless projects that will roll out over the next few years. Early findings suggest that, for management, there is a perception that it is not enough to simply change, or rather mobilise, technology. "If the culture of an organisation does not change, all you are doing is replacing one set of barriers with another set of barriers," said one participant.
However, there is something of a chicken and egg situation. Before we even think about the cultural aspects it is vital that the mobile industry pays heed to what the CIO Connect Census is telling us. These are the people responsible for ensuring management commitment to IT, and they are telling us that transparent management of cost and usage is paramount.
Mobile working has many benefits. It allows people to work faster and make quicker decisions, but if the cost is not predictable and manageable, the cultural factors can wait - for CIOs at least. We need to understand how all these factors - cost, culture and technology - fit together. It is important to understand how cultural and technological change can be managed so that they reinforce each other in a positive way. More importantly, we must all be aware of the changes that will be needed to make the most of technology in the future.
Sabine Wittlinger is head of corporate marketing at Vodafone UK
This article is part of Computer Weekly's Special Report on mobile IT produced in association with Vodafone