Magazine article Management Today

How to Avoid That IT Disaster

Magazine article Management Today

How to Avoid That IT Disaster

Article excerpt

The IT expert shouldn't be treated just as a |techie'. He should be part of the central management group, bridging that cultural divide. By Jane Bird

John Drinkwater knows just how horribly wrong an IT project can go. As director for group information at Rank Xerox, he has spent the last 18 months watching the company's pan-European logistics system run hugely over-time and over-budget. |It should have been delivered last year as part of a $53 million project. Instead of which, we are millions overspent and have nothing to show for it,' he says.

Drinkwater was recounting his experiences at a recent information technology debate at Cliveden, the luxury hotel, which was once home to the Astor family. The debate, sponsored by Management Today and accountants, KPMG centred on the question of the perceived culture gap between the chief executive of a business and his head of IT. Drinkwater is not the only senior executive disillusioned. Runaway projects which incur extra costs and long delays while failing to deliver business benefits, are widespread.

Much of the difficulty stems from the gulf between the technology director and the chief executive, says Nigel Horne, head of IT practice at KPMG. |The chief executive is not interested in IT but in its value to the business.' Meanwhile, the IT director feels he is treated as a |techie' and not involved in the business, reckons Horne. |The IT director has to meet increased demands for flexible and responsive systems on a reduced budget, while individual departments are allowed to buy their own PCs and pollute the corporate database by inputting their own data.'

One solution is the creation of so-called |hybrid managers'. These are individuals who have skills in technology and business so they can bridge the cultural divide. Such hybrids are being created at National Power where John Handby is director ofIT. His aim is to encourage-business high-fliers to gain an understanding ofIT departments on their way up the company ladder.

But the mere existence of such hybrids in British industry is not enough to solve the IT crisis. Top level management control is crucial. |They got what they paid for at Rank Xerox because they didn't take the time out to find what was happening,' Handby says. …

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