Magazine article Management Today

Terminal Shyness

Magazine article Management Today

Terminal Shyness

Article excerpt

Britain's bosses have woken up to information technology (IT) as a powerful strategic weapon, which seems good news for the IT industry, but many, while realising that it is not only here to stay but also to develop, are strangely reluctant to use their own fingers on the button.

An exclusive survey by Management Today has revealed that 90% of top executives perceive IT as a strategic element in building business advantage, but only 51% have a terminal on their desks. This figure suggests a far greater use of IT among senior executives than was previously thought to be the case which is some kind of good news, but, quite obviously, many are still missing out on a major source of competitive strength. They remain detached from the undoubted benefits that modern technology can bring to management in the way of instant information and general efficiency, not to mention the mainstream of progress. It has to be assumed that they are, possibly ashamedly, in the grip of technofear.

The survey, carried out in conjunction with AT&T Istel, the telecoms and computer services group, questioned the chairmen or chief executives of 111 Times 1000 companies on their attitudes to IT.

Where executives do have desk-top computers, the survey finds there is a high level of satisfaction. Indeed, more than 70% say they could not do without their screens, which not only suggests a far higher level of numeracy and computer literacy than has been suspected but surely indicates to the laggards that their fear might be worth conquering.

Executive Information Systems (EIS) are proving particularly popular, being used personally by 84% of them, which means that computer-literate top people are making real use of their systems as a management tool which is, of course, exactly what it is designed to be.

The survey also finds, unsurprisingly, that companies whose top executives do have desk-top computers show a much stronger awareness of the role of technology throughout the organisation and are more likely to place responsibility for IT at board level. Of the company chiefs with desk-top terminals, 73% have a director responsible for IT, whereas only 42% of the companies whose bosses are without a desk-top terminal place responsibility for IT at this level.

Although most respondents agree about the strategic importance of IT, 16% report difficulty in measuring its effectiveness and do not even attempt to make an assessment. However, 31% say they evaluate IT's performance against financial criteria including internal rate of return and inter-company comparisons. On the encouraging side, 51% showed that they had begun to use IT as a commercial weapon by measuring the business advantages it delivers in terms of customer satisfaction, competitive edge and improved communications.

One such was British Airways which tests the effectiveness of corporate IT investment against a broad range of objectives. John Watson, BA's director of information management, says he examines |the contribution towards corporate strategic initiatives (such as customer service, cost reduction and revenue improvement) expected from systems being developed.' He also considers the costs, benefits and performance of major systems that underpin the operation of the airline. Finally, he takes into account |the ability of the technical infrastructure, systems portfolio and skills base to provide an integrated platform on which new business applications can be built quickly and cost-effectively'. …

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