Keep Innovation in IT

Keep Innovation in IT

An InformationWeek study points out that 71 percent of respondents said that their business units required "help to automate and improve processes."

IT efficiency is critical in running any business. An IT degree helps you develop the skills needed to maintain existing systems while improving on new ones. By consolidating the odds and ends you can improve your organization and your career path through technology.

Information technology often gets relegated to a caretaker position, keeping the usual systems up and running, or maybe improving them. According to an InformationWeek annual study, the top IT projects mentioned most often by respondents was upgrading networks (22 percent), improving information security (21 percent), upgrading storage infrastructure (16 percent), improving data (15 percent), and deploying or upgrading an ERP or CRM system (13 percent).

There’s nothing wrong with any of those goals. The more efficient the infrastructure, the better operations can run. But an information systems degree should mean more than “keeping the lights on,” even if you are replacing them with energy-efficient bulbs and fancy new switches. An important trend in the industry is building IT-led products and services for both internal use and for customers. And that means IT needs innovation.

The InformationWeek study points out that 71 percent of respondents said that their business units required “help to automate and improve processes.” But only 11 percent of planned projects were focused on customers, “building IT-led products, creating mobile apps for customers and improving big data programs, for instance.” There is a danger of imbalance, according to Computerworld, with so much focus on maintaining and improving infrastructure than on helping a company find new ways of doing business. According to a Forrester survey, the average percentage of budget spent on keeping the lights on is 72 percent.

“I’ve seen companies where it’s 80% or 90% of the IT budget,” says Columbia Business School professor Rita Gunther McGrath, who examined this issue for her book The End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business. “I think it should be no more than 50%,” she adds.

Some of the reasons that IT departments have such a heavy emphasis on existing infrastructure include the following:

  • The lights have to stay on for the business to keep working.
  • IT departments often have to make things work as CEOs push to drive down the cost of operations. Not only is there less money, but more time goes into jury-rigging solutions.
  • The drive to quickly roll out systems also introduces more of this kludge factor.
  • Companies customize third-party software, making maintenance much more difficult.
  • Ironically, the better a job a department does at introducing new ways of doing business, the more regular maintenance it creates for itself with the new systems.

IT departments must find ways to become more efficient. Standardization of software can give a company more leverage in purchasing licenses while reducing the need for maintaining too broad a range of application expertise in house. Technologies like virtualization and cloud computing can improve cost efficiencies and consolidate administration can free up time and funds. Planning maintenance and equipment replacement in advance reduces the budget- and schedule-shredding last-minute emergencies.

Of course, any of this will require some serious sales within the company. Create a clear message for what greater efficiency will require and then repeat that message to everyone in management who could get worried about their pet needs and potentially derail your vision.

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