The price of a true partnership

As IT chiefs and their departments come to be seen as an integral part of the business, rather than simply an internal supplier...

As IT chiefs and their departments come to be seen as an integral part of the business, rather than simply an internal supplier of services, they can expect their non-IT colleagues to ask increasingly tough questions. These can be boiled down to a couple of pithy enquiries: "What are you doing for us?" and "Why is it costing so much?".

As our feature on page 36 makes clear, the pressure is on IT directors to make the charges their departments levy a lot more transparent.

Most boards now understand the importance of IT to their businesses, but as their familiarity with computing increases, they are less susceptible to a "smoke and mirrors" approach to charging. They are eager to use IT to the full if they can see the effect on the bottom line, but they are less inclined than ever to spend excessively.

Without a clear model for how IT should be priced and its services delivered to the internal market, IT chiefs leave themselves open to accusations of irresponsible spending.

In the "good old days" of mainframe supremacy, it was relatively easy to monitor usage in terms of Mips, even if that did not have any real meaning in business terms. The spread of distributed IT resources may have complicated the measurement of systems' business benefit, but it has also increased users' understanding of the importance of IT and changed forever the way they work.

That may make it easier to help users understand their responsibility in ensuring that IT is used to add value to the business and that it is charged for fairly in terms they understand, such as numbers of seats or hours of access.

For the IT department to act in true partnership with other areas of the business, it is not enough to supply what they need at the right time. IT must make sure that everyone understands what they are paying for and why.

Extended MS support

Microsoft's extension of its guaranteed support for enterprise software products is welcome. It also begs the question of whether users - especially smaller companies - have been getting a fair crack of the whip when it comes to support from suppliers.

As software systems become more robust, it is unrealistic to expect users to fit in with suppliers' product lifecycle strategies in terms of upgrade decisions. With the right charging structures in place, more generous support facilities from suppliers could pay off for both parties.

Read more on IT for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME)