CIO UK has always championed the business benefits derived from IT. We strive to show illustrations of IT departments that are effectively aligned with business strategy and delivering value to business. Our annual research for the 100 Biggest Users of IT and readers’ Top Ten Concerns show that business alignment is a fundamental issue for CIOs.
Over the last five years, business and IT has become far better aligned, especially since the last economic downturn a few years ago, when companies were forced to take a long, hard look at their investments.
There are still some spectacular IT failures – especially in the public sector – but by and large they are the result of a flawed business and implementation strategy, rather than a failure of the IT strategy itself.
So the results of The Cranfield School of Management’s latest survey on IT investments and business benefits came as rather a blow, initially.
It found that nearly 60 per cent of the business and IT managers polled said that they are not satisfied that they are getting value from IT investments and 73 per cent said significant improvements were needed if their organisations are going to deliver satisfactory value from IT.
This is a very similar figure from a comparable survey that Cranfield conducted 10 years ago. So does that mean the industry hasn’t moved on at all in that time?
The evidence from the IT directors that we talk to suggests that most IT departments have progressed significantly during the last decade.
Most of the organisations that regularly feature in CIO UK say they are gaining business benefits from their IT investments. They feel they are closely aligned to their organisation’s business strategy or at least they are well on the way to being integrated with the business.
This seems to suggest that business managers expectations of IT over the 10-year period have changed – which is a very good thing.
A decade ago IT departments were not under the same pressure to make IT pay. Even five years ago their main remit was to cut operating costs through automating processes, rather than adding to the bottom line. Today, companies like HSBC, BA and Corus cut operating costs on an annual basis, while at the same time introducing business transformation programmes that use technical innovation to enable their businesses. This is great progress.
The future of science and technology in the UK seems to be entering something of a ‘push-me pull-me’ phase.
On one day an £18m investment aimed at reversing the falling numbers of students studying physics, maths, chemistry and engineering was announced by Higher Education Funding Council for England – which will contribute almost £12 million of the total package – but the following day the new GCSE science courses were branded as ‘dumbed down’ by the Rector of Imperial College.
Two weeks before that, Reading University announced that it would be following Newcastle University’s lead and close its physics department because of under funding.
Meanwhile the Institute of Physics’ science director, Peter Main, was quoted as saying that there is a mismatch between what employers’ want and the economic drivers of universities – because physics graduates were very employable and well paid. Although fewer technically skilled people are needed in the UK, due to the continuing move to offshore technical work, there does need to be a core of well-qualified science graduates to encourage the technical innovation that the economy needs.
It is already difficult to attract young people to science or engineering rather than media studies or marketing, without universities closing down courses and education experts arguing over the merits of single science subjects.
The problem is that studying science properly is expensive. It has been under funded in schools and colleges for years.
This year A-level entries in physics reached a new low with 37 per cent fewer students choosing it than in 1991, according to the Royal Society.
What is needed is sustained investment in science for schools and colleges, rather than haphazard initiatives and chunks of money given out here and there. The Royal Society has said it is worried that the next generation of scientists will be lost if the situation is not addressed properly and that is something that the UK cannot afford to let happen.