Lines blur as business managers cruise IT budgets

IT managers doubting the uncanny ability of some business intelligence systems to bridge budget boundaries within the enterprise need to get hip with alignment or watch their wallet.

Long-suffering IT shops see their budget stripped to bare bones while savvy business managers get new toys like business intelligence systems. They raid the IT biscuit tin and then harvest the ROI brownie points.

This year it's dashboards. Dashboards are all the rage for Winter 2003, along with that austerity look.

Anyone doubting this trend should take note of the wisdom of Andy Hirst, marketing director of Business Objects' worldwide financial services division. Hirst has been down under selling BI product and is under no delusions as to where the dashboard dollars are.

"I'd say about 30 per cent of business intelligence buying decisions are now made by business managers," Hirst told Computerworld.

"[The incidence of business managers making IT spend decisions] has increased, definitely. Cost pressures are driving the market at the moment. People are looking at managing out specific [cost] issues, things like human resources [in non performing areas] – what's costing them, where."

Hirst says the desire to kill costs stems from greater risk and declining economic growth. Australia, like the US and UK, is beholden to record-low interest rates and a buoyant housing economy fuelling banking and finance profits.

"Managing exception is a theme. [Business managers] want to be able to toggle back and forth [to compare data]. If a dashboard is like PowerPoint, you can't drill though into it. You want to find the root cause; if you can't, the value of the dashboard is diminished. Business intelligence is a way of leveraging current [IT] investment so you can realise a very quick ROI," Hirst says.

"'Managing exception' means getting rid of people whether they are customers that will take you down the drain or a division that can't show enough ROI performance. Never has there been a better reason for business managers to burgle IT budgets and get a dashboard -- no whitepapers asked. Not that everyone is buying the pitch, even if they are buying data warehouses and analytics."

Macquarie Bank CIO and Business Objects user Nigel Smyth flatly refuses to buy into the budget demarcation debate, saying that, as IT aligns with the business units, decision making is shared and ratified as are budgets and ROI.

"Our structure is such that the [demarcation] line is pretty blurred. I guess it has blurred [industry-wide] over the last five or so years.

"What happens [here] is the IT team sits down with business and we help them work out the best solution. We've gone to the extent that they choose [solutions] and we help them choose. [Macquarie] IT has very few centralised, separate functions. The next step would be to spin it off completely [into business units], but we wouldn't do that.

"You do need a governance committee… so that people don't just buy something that their friend is selling. I think we've got the balance right. It seems to swing in cycles: centralise-decentralise and back again," Smyth said.

Analytics vendors will never say it, but when they see business managers getting their enterprise into deep waters, they are the first to offer a fashionable solution. This year's pret-a-porter just happens to be dashboard, so watch your wallet and your back.

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