The IT department must stop insulating itself from the rest of the business when developing strategy.
That was the conclusion of users and consultants at a conference about bridging the gap between the business and IT functions of the organisation.
David Smith, head of IT strategy at Unilever, was responsible for developing the consumer goods manufacturer's IT plan in line with the company's 'Path to Growth' streamlining strategy.
"We had a huge amount of fragmentation and duplication about the organisation, with a spaghetti-ball infrastructure and 40 different Sap installations across Europe alone," he said.
The company has since consolidated its IT into five regional operating units around the globe, and implemented things like a global purchasing agreement to cut down the number of hardware suppliers to just two worldwide.
"That put £50m into the bottom line profit straight away," he said.
Smith said senior IT executives need to know how to talk about technology to the board, and that the IT department is often responsible for isolating itself from the rest of the business.
"Some of the toughest stuff was getting the IT people on board, because they are often the most resistant to change. It's a real paradox.
"Senior IT people were lunching among themselves, so I built it into their appraisals that they had to lunch with a senior manager from the business side at least once a month."
The IT function must research what makes each board member tick: are they visionary or conservative, said Smith.
"The board learn about other functions, like finance and marketing, by osmosis but the problem is that IT is not discussed in that way at boardroom level. If you can't excite them, scare the hell out of them."
Andrew Holmes, director at consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), said a business case can be made for reinvesting savings from IT projects into newer technology.
"These companies will be the ones to succeed, not the slash and burn ones. Businesses have to accept that because IT is difficult we can't have a 100 per cent success rate. But you have got to be out there, willing to take the risk," he said.
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