29 Sep Are businesses getting what they need from IT?
Madison, Wis. – The dizzying pace of change sparked by the information technology industry gives the impression that workable solutions abound to almost every business challenge, but has IT really come through for business?
Based on anecdotal evidence collected at a recent Wisconsin technology conference, the results are mixed but getting better. The conference, presented by Paragon Development Systems, brought together more than 300 corporate clients and representatives of vendor partners like Microsoft and Intel Corp.
Citing healthy levels of industry R&D, Craig Schiefelbein, president and CEO of PDS, believes the industry has turned a corner. “There are huge strides being made right now,” Schiefelbein said. “We’re at the point where a lot of the prophecy of recent years is coming true.”
Those promises of Internet Telephony, high-speed broadband, virtual servers, and security applications, among others, provide optimism that business capital spending will continue its climb from the Death Valley Days of 2001 and 2002. Business fixed investment, including IT spending, has risen an average of nine percent over the past two years, to $1.3 trillion in 2005, according to the Federal Reserve Board.
Still, it remains below its 40-year average as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, even with widespread recognition of the importance of information technology in streamlining business operations.
Restrained business spending behavior, especially in an economy that has been expanding at a healthy clip for two years, could be explained by a number of factors, including a reluctance to invest just for the sake of having the latest and greatest.
Even organizations that understand the importance of digital capability have decided to trust vendors less and themselves more. Case in point: Marshfield Clinic, which has designed the bulk of its new system for PC tablet patient records. Approximately 1,600 employees use the tablets to remotely access patient records, including prescriptions and medical images, from a variety of healthcare settings.
This isn’t Marshfield Clinic’s first experience with going it alone. It was one of the first healthcare organizations to move toward electronic medical records, and that was back in the mid 1980s, when few people were familiar with the word “Internet.”
Improving care and reducing costs were the primary motivations for the clinic’s latest project, and vendor partners like Fujitsu, maker of the tablet notebooks, have been essential. However, there were times in the system’s development when the clinic went searching for a workable solution, but ultimately decided to build it from within, according to CIO Carl Christensen.
When an organization has two million annual patient encounters across 40 sites, those decisions aren’t made lightly. With the notable exception of moving across organizations within the clinic structure, where interoperability issues demand outside help, the clinic IT team did most of the work.
Still, when asked whether the IT industry stepped up to meet its needs on this project, Christensen said it was a combination of yes and no. “It’s getting a lot better,” he added. “Certainly, it’s a lot better than it was 20 years ago.”
Desk side manner
Thomas Kilroy, vice president and general manager of the Digital Enterprise Group for Intel Corp., said one benchmark used to measure service quality is the number of computer problems that can be handled with a simple call to help-desk support.
According to Kilroy, 87 percent of information technology concerns can be addressed with help-desk support, but that’s somewhat misleading because the 13 percent that require desktop visits account for 46 percent of maintenance costs.
Despite the fact that compliance requirements are mounting, data center density is increasing, and hackers are becoming more sophisticated, Kilroy said the IT industry is expected to help business improve on those numbers. “We have to reduce that 13 percent to almost nothing,” he said.
One of the challenges of aligning business value with IT performance is the constancy of cyber threats. No longer content to simply gain notoriety with computer maladies that disrupt businesses, hackers have become a more professional criminal class. Whereas it used to take weeks and months for cyber crooks to exploit an operating system, it now takes a matter of days, and not a day goes by when most chief technology officers wonder when disaster will strike.
Kilroy said the design of Intel’s newest business desktop platform was “totally” influenced by the recent series of security breaches in government and business. The product, he noted, is not a software security application, but a platform with built-in manageability agents that make enterprise software more effective.
The value proposition now includes both reducing the cost of ownership and improving security. “Hackers have moved on from attention getters to how they can exploit and profit from their work,” Kilroy said. “It creates a sense of urgency [for IT] that’s even greater.”
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