Service can offer route to respect

It is understandably galling for many IT directors that their departments are often seen as simply providing a service and as a cost centre rather than a profit generator.

It is understandably galling for many IT directors that their departments are often seen as simply providing a service and as a cost centre rather than a profit generator.

At the City IT Forum (see page 18) there were renewed calls for IT to have a board-level presence, rather than play poor cousin to the finance department, and for IT to be seen as a bona fide profit centre.

It is certainly true that advances in IT have been responsible for the development of many new services and products - one has only to look at the rise of business over the internet to see that. In the area of finance, the importance of a computer/ internet-based offering is especially marked.

But for all this, it is still difficult to see IT as a clear profit centre for most businesses in that IT usually remains the means for delivering a service or product rather than the product itself. For example, when one purchases travel insurance online, it is still the policy and its promised benefits which is the product rather than the greater ease of purchase provided by the insurance company's website.

In internet banking, the service offered is (hopefully) secure, convenient and speedy banking, while computers and communications devices are the means of providing this. Well publicised stories of customer dissatisfaction over security lapses or computer downtime locking people out of their bank accounts clearly show that messing around with IT is not what consumers are looking for.

The same principle applies to many improvements in business processes. For example, an efficient electronic archive may positively affect a company's bottom line by increasing efficiency and cutting costs, but would you call it a profit centre?

It is all very frustrating for the IT manager who wants to be seen as grasping the entrepreneurial banner, but perhaps the "problem" of the relative status of IT is more a matter of semantics than reality.

Service has become a dirty word in today's Britain. Perhaps it is time for IT professionals to take the lead in restoring the notion of service as an honourable and rewarding activity. That still means understanding business needs and opportunities and talking the same language as one's business colleagues, but it may mean reining in the desire to be conspicuous as one of the "movers and shakers".

A job well done, costs cut and efficiency increased will always cut ice - not only in the boardroom but at all levels of the organisation and beyond.

 

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