The Danger of Overselling IT

Ann All

In theory, Gartner's findings that 62 percent of CEOs think IT will be a "key element" of their companies' post-recession recovery plans is a good thing. It seems to suggest IT's star is rising in the enterprise. That's reflected in their plans for IT budgets, with 43 percent of CEOs saying they intend to increase spending in 2010 and another 45 percent saying they won't make cuts.


An IT Pro item quotes Gartner's Mark Raskino, who says chief executives are "expecting to increase the importance of IT in their post-recession approach."


But I wonder if these high expectations for IT won't ultimately lead to, to use one of Gartner's best-known terms, the "trough of disillusionment." (I just hope the Gartner analyst who came up with it was as canny as former Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley, who in 1989 trademarked the term "three-peat" when it looked as if the Lakers were headed for a third consecutive NBA championship.)


After all, it hasn't been all that long since surveys by both Gartner and Forrester Research found business executives and their IT counterparts had mismatched expectations for IT. Drawing on research from those two analyst firms, the Economist Intelligence Unit and the UK's Chartered Management Institute, it looked as if CEOs largely took a hands-off approach to technology, and worse, tended to view it as a kind of "silver bullet" for solving business ills.


A recent example of this attitude is all of the vague talk about business intelligence's ability to "uncover customer insights." As IT Business Edge's Mike Vizard recently wrote, the most sophisticated BI technologies won't do much good unless companies first create an effective method to analyze and manage their data. Perhaps not surprisingly, with companies desperate to drive new business, BI is one of five technologies in which Gartner predicts companies will invest in 2010.


In another example of overinflated expectations for IT, lots of folks -- including the Obama administration -- seem to think technology can magically reduce health care costs. Yet a recent Harvard Medical School study evaluating the use of technology at 4,000 U.S. hospitals over four years shows that electronic health records and other tech tweaks won't lower health care spending, and may increase it.


Sure, it's tempting for CIOs to capitalize on their CEOs' warm feelings toward IT. Gartner's Raskino says they should "take advantage of business leaders' relatively positive attitude towards IT investment during budget negotiations." But they need to be careful not to oversell IT's ability to restore business to health. If they do, CEOs' attitudes won't stay positive for long.

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