Many business leaders see IT as 'commodity': survey

Business leaders say IT's role in business innovation is accelerating, but IT managers aren't up to the task. Is this a fair perception?

A majority of business leaders believe their information technology functions are on the verge of a major, impending disruption, and 43% say their company will increasingly use IT "as a commodity service that is bought as and when needed."

That's the gist of a new survey of 536 business leaders, released by The Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by Dell Services. As reported by CIO's Thor Olavsrud, at least 57% if the C-suite executives say transformation is imminent with the next three years.  However, many don't feel their CIOs are up for the challenges -- only 46% say their CIOs understand the business and only 44% say their CIOs understand the technical risks involved in new ways of using IT. In addition, Olavsrud reports, one in six CIOs don't really have a hand in forumating business strategy.

Is this an indictment of CIOs, or an indictment of business-side executives who are blind to the potential of IT to move businesses forward into an increasingly, hyper-competitive global market? The survey shows little doubt that IT will drive the business forward with new innovations and ways to connect with customers.

And, tellingly, companies that recognize the value of their IT resources do better In their markets, the survey finds. For example, of the 37% of respondents who said their CIO was actively involved in setting business strategy, 47% -- versus 28% of those with silent CIOs.

As for the increasing perception that IT is a commodity, this has been building for more than a decade now. IT resources have become increasingly cheap and yet more powerful. Now, the cloud offer alternatives outside the enterprise walls.

Still, having all the state-of-the-art computing resources in the world do not alone make a well-run company -- any more than having great video and editing technology will turn its user into the next Steven Spielberg, or merely owning a Stradivarius violin will make someone a great musician. It takes a special mix of vision, along with an ability to get people passionate and committed, and lots and lots of hard work to make a company rise above the competition.

To take the musician analogy a step further, think of the CIO as an orchestra conductor, pulling in the right technology solutions and IT pros just at the right times to make things hum.

The report also provides some advice to both CIOs and business leaders, including the need to push IT services budgeting down to the business unit level so "the people who pay for an IT service are those who benefit from it," and to think more widely about the role of IT in the business.