The Changing Role of IT in Today's Business Climate

Michael Vizard

While politicians continue to debate the implications of a jobless recovery on this Presidents' Day, business leaders are clearly focusing on a different set of leadership priorities that put an emphasis on using IT to increase productivity of existing employees as part of an effort to control headcount growth.

For the past several years, it seems like the only conversation that anybody wanted to have about IT is how to cut costs. But as the economy began to improve, Capgemini CEO for North America Lanny Cohen says the tenor of the conversation between IT and business leaders is starting to shift towards the productivity of the entire company, rather than just the size of the IT budget.

That doesn't mean that IT costs are no longer an issue, says Cohen. But it does mean that as the economy improves, business leaders want to hear more about how to leverage IT to better scale the business without having to dramatically increase the size of the payroll. That means, for example, there is greater interest in workflow and collaboration technologies as businesses look for ways to re-engineer processes to make them more efficient. But business leaders want to make sure that whatever investments they do make are paid for incrementally as an operating expense versus having to put a lot of scarce capital upfront to fund a project that may never come to fruition. In that context, the yield from an IT investment needs to be pretty quick, says Cohen.

This new business culture is creating an obsession with risk management that many IT executives are finding to be challenging without some outside help, says Cohen. That means partnering with IT services companies such as Capgemini, which just posted healthy growth rates across most of its lines of business, that understand how this new business climate now requires a more nuance approach to balancing the cost of IT against short- and long-term gains in productivity.

In fact, the days of multimillion-dollar IT projects funded by access to inexpensive capital will probably never come back. And if that's the case, it's also safe to assume that a lot of senior IT managers are going to have a tough time adapting to a new economic reality that puts a premium on combining IT project management skills with business acumen to achieve a specific result in a very short period of time.

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