Forrester IT Forum: Companies must focus on BT not IT

To be truly successful companies must start moving away from the old world of information technology (IT) and start embracing the new dawn of business technology (BT), a critical part of which involves ensuring that technology professionals talk to those behind the corporate steering wheel.

And, when it comes to getting chief executive officers (CEOs) to understand technology, the US is still ahead of Europe, according to George Colony, chief executive of Forrester Research, who made the comments during his keynote speech at the analyst's IT Forum EMEA 2007 in Edinburgh this morning.

Addressing the audience of IT and business decision makers, Colony said that he spends a great deal of time focusing on the role of the CEO and usually gives them a checklist of seven things they must realise or do to ease the transition from IT to BT.

"It is no longer information technology. When I came into the business it was called electronic data processing (EDP), then management information systems (MIS) then it the early 90s it changed to IT. But that is no longer appropriate," he said.

"It's no longer about closing the books or how many tyres you have sold. Technology is now inexplicably interwoven with the business. They are one and the same so we are advocating a change from the term IT to the term BT."

Highlighting the ever-increasing business criticality of technology, Colony referenced Goldman Sachs, which has estimated that it would lose around $100 million an hour if its systems were to fail. The financial damage is slightly smaller, but equally as harrowing, for the average European player, with a loss of between €15 million and €20 million each hour IT disconnects itself from the business.

"This is no longer something in the backroom. It is the job of every single executive in your company," he added.

"If a CEO I'm speaking to doesn't agree, I tell them to go back to their office and go down the hall unplugging wires. If they still don't hear the screams I tell them to go to the computer room and take the biggest wire out of the wall and then I ask them to tell me: 'Can you still develop and sell your products and communicate with customers?'"

The other items of Colony's seven-step check list are equally important ingredients to success.

CEOs need to start understanding technology more than they do currently, with some still getting their secretaries to print out emails so that they can scribble responses and get their assistants to email the answers back, according to Colony.

That's not to say they need to become an in-depth expert, but they do need to get a better handle on the connection between technology and business as well as ensuring they have a chief information officer (CIO) on board who can help educate the CEO and others, he adds.

"How many boards would let their CEO not understand marketing or finance?" he said. "So why should we let them have a pass when it comes to technology?"

Ensuring someone technical sits on the board to handhold the business stakeholders through key decisions and periods of change is also key, as is making sure that processes and the organisation also evolve to complement any IT changes.

Some 11 out of the top 20 US companies have board-level technical representation, compared to just six out of 20 in Europe, according to Colony.

Finally, as well as getting used to the fact that some aspects of technology can be given direction but are often very hard to control completely, businesses must ensure that their marketing and technology functions are in synch.

Maggie Holland

Maggie has been a journalist since 1999, starting her career as an editorial assistant on then-weekly magazine Computing, before working her way up to senior reporter level. In 2006, just weeks before ITPro was launched, Maggie joined Dennis Publishing as a reporter. Having worked her way up to editor of ITPro, she was appointed group editor of CloudPro and ITPro in April 2012. She became the editorial director and took responsibility for ChannelPro, in 2016.

Her areas of particular interest, aside from cloud, include management and C-level issues, the business value of technology, green and environmental issues and careers to name but a few.