To Have or Have Not

Why is it that some companies seem to get so much more out of their IT efforts than others? Do they have better technology? Do they throw more money at the problem? Are their executives smarter, more talented, more dedicated? As Peter Weill and Jeanne W. Ross note in their IT Governance: How Top Performers Manage IT Decision Rights for Superior Results, out this month from Harvard Business School Press and reviewed in this issue: “Top-performing enterprises generate returns on their IT investments up to 40% greater than their competitors.”

This contrast comes up every time we review the results of our monthly research surveys. Respondents seem to fall into two groups: the haves and the have-nots. Typically, the haves are distinguished by their claims of strategic success, which are backed up by a variety of statistics. The have-nots, of course, don’t have much to brag about.

This gap was brought home in spades in this month’s research on how companies track, test and deploy emerging information technologies. Consider the difference between early and late adopters of new technologies. The number of early adopters is on the rise, no doubt a result of the improving economy and of such promising technologies as tablet PCs, storage virtualization, Voice over IP, patch management and digital signatures. But just as critical as the technologies they’re deploying are the motives for looking into these technologies—and for avoiding them. The top reason among all respondents for adopting new technologies this year was to improve business processes, while cutting costs fell from the top choice last year to third this year, coming in behind increasing productivity. But when asked the top obstacles to adoption, early adopters cited problems with the technology as their No. 1 reason, while the vast majority of late adopters cited cost considerations.

Why does that matter? Because those same late adopters also indicate that they don’t get the business payoff from new technologies that early adopters do, and they’re almost twice as likely as their speedier colleagues to say their adoption style has caused them to miss out on important business opportunities. Most important, they don’t collaborate with their business counterparts as readily as early adopters do, and they’re much more likely to demand formal cost-benefit analyses of proposed technologies. In other words, to reap the benefits many of the early adopters are seeing, the late adopters need to link their technology plans more tightly to their business goals. It’s called alignment.

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