IT is more important than ever in creating competitive differentiation, according to a recent survey of business executives, sponsored by the Business Process Management (BPM) Forum and BPM vendor webMethods, titled: “Accelerate How You Differentiate: The Alert Enterprise Audit.” But IT still lags behind, they say, when it comes to keeping up with the demands of the business. It’s particularly bad in larger companies—45 percent of executives surveyed from firms with more than $500 million in revenues say their IT departments are facing significant difficulties or can’t keep up at all. Furthermore, roughly 43 percent of all respondents say that their firm’s core business processes are in significant need of IT attention.
Naturally, lack of time, funds and technical resources were cited as the top reasons why IT falls behind. But also high on the list is the fact that IT and businesspeople still don’t speak the same language, says Deborah Rosen, executive vice president of worldwide marketing for webMethods. “The CIO needs to be the business leader, the chief process officer. The message is clear that business executives want IT to be more responsive to their priorities, and are looking at IT to lead the way.”
But which path to take? Dave Murray, executive program director of the BPM Forum, says the study highlights the need for companies to become what he calls “alert enterprises.” The alert enterprise has three attributes, he says: real-time access to information; the ability to quickly and effectively change processes; and a strict focus on core issues that lead to market distinction. In other words, the “alert” enterprise can, and does, react quickly to real-time events, and has its process machine so well oiled that it can focus on truly differentiating itself from the competition. It’s a business imperative, Murray says, that depends entirely on IT for its success. “Businesses want their IT shops to have more flexibility but also make a much stronger contribution to business strategy,” he says.
Instead of focusing on cutting costs, for example, CIOs should concentrate on driving innovation and actively using technology to improve business processes. “Many business executives don’t know you can use technology to model a process and improve it,” says Deborah Rosen, executive vice president of worldwide marketing for WebMethods.
Of course, every company longs for the ability to sense and react quickly, to change processes rapidly, and to beat the competition with new and improved products. But achieving the “alert” enterprise is easier said than done. After all, it’s hard enough just keeping the lights on, and not all CIOs have the clout they need to lead such a charge. Still, says Murray, considering that nearly 70 percent of survey respondents say IT is key to creating market differentiation, CIOs are in a unique position to help their companies succeed. “The message is that CIOs had better get better at aligning their organizations and the way they communicate around business strategy rather than technology—they can’t deliver the alert enterprise without it.”