CIOs struggle to make tech strategic, says Microsoft

24 Apr 2006

Chief information officers (CIOs) will struggle to make technology seem a strategic asset to a company while they still get to grips with issues such as IT management, password and access control.

Richard Moore, head of server and tools products at Microsoft Ireland, has said that many organisations have yet to reach the “dream state” where IT can be provided as a true service. “If you’re the CIO, how do you earn the right to have that voice heard at strategic discussions if you don’t have your house in order to give value back to the business?” he asked.

Outlining the background to this, Moore said: “Companies are growing and the expectation of infrastructure is much higher, device management is more complex, there are more mobile workers and customer service expectations are higher. Meanwhile, [management] are saying ‘keep costs under control’. With smart application of the right IT systems you can make that happen.”

Microsoft has developed a model of IT maturity that is similar to one created by the analyst firm Gartner. Under this, there are four stages: basic, standardised, rationalised and dynamic.

The basic stage is epitomised by the ‘hero culture’ within IT of long hours and a mostly manual approach to managing the infrastructure. There is typically no server-based identity or access management and there is inconsistent use of desktop passwords. According to Microsoft, 70pc of organisations worldwide are in this category.

“In Ireland we would have been one of the least advanced countries from an IT management point of view a couple of years ago but now I think we’re around the European average,” said Moore.

Under the standardised stage, IT departments have some regular processes automated, such as rolling out security patches, but there are still strong manual elements involved in IT and desktops are not controlled by group policy.

Rationalised organisations use server and desktop management tools to prevent incidents before they can happen and desktops are more tightly managed.

A dynamic IT model uses automatic centrally controlled management systems; this allows technology services to be provided to the business based on agreed levels. An additional benefit, said Moore, is that IT staff are freed up to be involved in more strategic areas. “Rather than using people to do low-value jobs, using these systems lets you get higher value out of the smart IT people you have.”

Only around 5pc of organisations worldwide are estimated to be in the latter category, even though it promises significant cost savings. “The cost of hardware and software is going down but what most IT departments are facing is ongoing costs: the people and process cost of maintaining IT is going up,” Moore added.

Microsoft has set up a consulting division specifically to address this infrastructure optimisation issue with customers. This will focus strongly on change management and the people and processes involved. “This is a recognition on our part that you can’t just concentrate on the products,” Moore said, stressing that this is not simply a means to sell software. “This is not necessarily about buying more products but about using [technology] in the most optimal fashion,” he pointed out. “The dream state you want to get to is a service level agreement with your internal IT department.”

By Gordon Smith