When asked to select the best description of the IT department's role in the enterprise, 60% of IT respondents said IT was integral, but only 43% of non-IT folks concurred. On the flip side, 42% of non-IT respondents say IT is a support organization and not especially innovative; only 34% of IT respondents accepted this description.
Other results reinforce this perception gap. Only half of business users reported being "moderately," "very" or "completely" satisfied with the performance of their own IT departments on projects, compared to 68% of respondents who work in IT. Twenty percent of end users reported being "not at all satisfied," compared to 9% of IT people.
Why the disparity? One reason is that internal IT is not the only option available to the business. As business technology has become more SaaS-ified, BYOD-ized and accessible, the potential consequences of a conflict between IT and end users have become more immediate.
In the past, IT held the technology trump card. If the marketing department asked for a new application and IT said no, there was no chance a rouge team was going to sneak into the data center, rack a server, run the cables and fire up the software. Now those who chafe under restrictions from find themselves with easy, relatively inexpensive access to applications and services online.
That gives new power to end users, who can reject the judgment of IT and order up suites of business apps, networks and fancy gadgets with no more qualification than a budget and a credit card. From the point of view of the end user, this is progress. They get the technology they believe they need (often correctly), without the cost, complexity and delay of having IT build it for them.
Unfortunately for IT, this state of affairs enforces the notion that hot new technology comes from outside the company, while IT faithfully keeps the old, busted stuff alive inside the company. It's an attitude that the technologists theoretically responsible for moving the company into the future are, in fact, anchoring it in the past.
Another reason for the perception gap may be that when technology works, it essentially becomes invisible. IT pros have always been far more aware of the problems overcome and disasters avoided while either implementing new systems or maintaining the old ones, but those efforts are likely to go unrecognized by business users. No one ever says, "Hey, my application worked really well today. Thanks, IT!"
Innovate or Go Home
IT is under tremendous pressure to innovate--that is, to find new ways to add value to the business via technology initiatives. At the same time, it's tasked with keeping existing systems fully operational. Those are competing, and sometimes contradictory, demands, which may also affect user perceptions.
For instance, 42% of end users said that IT provides critical support, but isn't especially innovative. Another 12% said new initiatives happen with minimal involvement from IT. Only 5% of IT pros agreed with that statement, although a third of IT respondents acknowledged that IT delivers support, not innovation.
"Here, IT is seen as a drag on innovation," one respondent wrote. "The user perception of IT is very low and generally this perception is ignored by senior IT management as not being of any importance." That's a strong statement, and a worrying indication that IT organizations may be operating on user assumptions that are no longer valid.
However, the results from the survey aren't all grim. In fact, a majority of non-IT respondents (59%) said internal IT will be more important to the business in the next two years; only 4% say less. That's a clear validation of IT's worth, and IT leaders should seize on that perception and take steps to ensure that IT remains relevant to the business side of the organization.
It can be done, and real-world examples abound. For example, look at Bill Schlough, CIO of the San Francisco Giants, who was chosen as InformationWeek's CIO of the Year for 2012. Schlough has used technological innovations in big data, wireless infrastructure and dynamic ticket pricing to support baseball operations, as well as to improve game experiences for Giants fans.
Perceptions may not always match reality, but the fact is, they matter. IT organizations that ignore business user attitudes about IT do so at their own peril.