Business process improvement tops IT '09 agenda, say Gartner, IT execs

Business process improvement takes first chair as CIOs look to deliver business results with tight resources, say IT execs and Gartner's CIO Agenda study.

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Enterprise IT budgets in 2009 are nearly flat, and CIOs must drive business process improvement while creatively using existing resources to advance their organizations' agendas.

So says the latest research from Gartner Inc., a Stamford, Conn.-based consultancy, as well as interviews with CIOs, who put business process improvement atop their agenda for 2009. Today, Gartner releases the results of its 2009 CIO Agenda survey, which took the pulse of more than 1,500 CIOs between Sept. 15 -- just as news of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.'s bankruptcy filing broke and stock markets subsequently tumbled -- and Dec. 15, 2008.

The survey finds that IT budgets in 2009 will rise, but by such a miniscule percentage -- .16% -- as to be considered flat.

Therefore, organizations are not slashing their IT budgets wholesale -- "in fact, they are using IT to change the way the company works, to make it more effective and efficient," said Mark McDonald, a group vice president at Gartner and author of the study. "CIOs are essentially going to have the same resources as last year to address a whole new range of problems."

The survey, which ranked CIOs' top priorities, found that "improving business processes" topped the list once again this year, with 57% naming it as a top concern. Following that was "reducing enterprise costs" with 51% and "improving enterprise workforce effectiveness," which was up three spots from last year and garnered 37%.

Those pretty much mirror the mandates for Kathy Schue, district technician for the Gresham-Barlow School District in Gresham, Ore. "With the budget downturn, our No. 1 priority in the coming year is finding efficiencies in all processes -- not only in the technology department with network infrastructure, but since this is education, we have teachers, administrators and everybody else," she said.

The school system serves 13,000 users, including staff, employees and students. Six people work in IT, and Schue says her department's budget is down close to 12%, making it all the more important to accomplish as much as possible with the resources it already has.

"We're analyzing how things are currently done, and finding out if there's a way to either automate them or use other tools we currently have, or invest in new tools if they show efficiency," Schue said.

For instance, the department has decided to build a database in-house for its work order system, and expand it down to the user level. "We figure it's saving us at least $20,000 just on implementation and development," Schue said. "We have very talented staff, and they're always wanting to learn new things, so we're making sure we're cross-training so, if we lose someone, we're not left in a hole with services not being maintained."

Randy Meyers, information security officer at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y., said he certainly agreed with the top priorities cited in Gartner's survey. "We're obviously looking at things at a much more tactical level and figuring out what are the points of pain," he said.

There are about 1,500 faculty and staff members at Ithaca College, with about 75 working in IT. The school is looking at virtualization for consolidation of servers, as well as modernizing a lot of its infrastructure.

Although IT's budget is down a bit -- less than 5%, Meyers said -- the school is still following through on a three-year, multimillion-dollar network security rearchitecture.

"IT, historically, is not a budget priority, but people are starting to learn the value of IT," he said. "They can save time and money and energy on their end -- the business unit -- if their IT systems are good and efficient."

Schue said her school district is also following through on previous plans, such as a five-year desktop computer renewal plan. "With the rate that technology grows and changes, it's just not possible to get off that schedule," she said.

Schue said she also sees a positive attitude toward investing in IT despite the recession. For decision makers in the school district, "this has been a very big year for opening their eyes," she said. "They've never really paid attention to what IT does before. Now they're looking for efficiencies and ways to transform processes. They're looking more to IT for ideas, suggestions and implementations of new approaches. It's good for us."

IT restructuring includes focus on governance

For its part, Gartner is seeing organizations change their cost structures and use IT differently.

In particular, some companies are restructuring IT to make it more flexible, both in terms of costs and resources, to enhance the ability to do different kinds of projects. "A lot of IT organizations are organized around specific IT assets -- ERP, CRM -- so when the business wants to make a change, it has to negotiate with multiple teams to accomplish a particular goal," McDonald said. "So we are now seeing a reorganization around processes and products, as opposed to around teams, to be more responsive to those needs."

CIOs are essentially going to have the same resources as last year to address a whole new range of problems.

Mark McDonald, group vice president, Gartner Inc.

For instance, Deutsche Bank AG has implemented a service delivery framework, which reflects a greater focus on products and processes and makes IT resources more flexible to move across individual processes and initiatives, McDonald said.

Intel Corp. has simplified its IT governance by eliminating multiple governance structures. It has established a formal application retirement initiative, and this year expects to eliminate more than 200 applications, McDonald said. In addition, staff is being reorganized so more people are working on development.

In the past several months, Carquest Corp., an auto-parts retailer, has put additional energy into simplifying its IT governance structure. "It needed to reprioritize its entire project portfolio to focus on essential projects first," McDonald said.

The report also recommends that enterprises "modernize," which will actually aid your organization's bottom line. If an organization's infrastructure is pre-2005, there are significant opportunities to provide more compute power at a lower average cost, and at a lower operating cost, he said. "The new price point for performance and capacity capability of hardware is significantly greater than it was in the past," McDonald said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Rachel Lebeaux, Associate Editor.

This was first published in January 2009

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