ElectronicHealthcare 2(2) May 2003 : 30-30

Five IT Decisions That Should Involve Non-IT Executives

Harvard Business Review and November 2002


For years, senior-level executives have struggled with the challenge of making IT decisions, often feeling that they don't have enough IT knowledge to manage technology projects in detail. Yet research has shown that organizations whose senior leadership is involved in IT decisions often experience higher return on IT investments and more successful implementation of new technologies.

Researchers at MIT have discovered that while IT executives should be allowed to make decisions about IT management - the design of new technology and the training required - there are five IT decisions that should always involve senior-level leadership.

  1. How much should the organization spend on IT? You may be tempted to benchmark IT expenditures against other organizations, but this can lead to spending too much or too little. Senior-level executives must be the ones to determine the strategic role that IT will play in the organization, and to use that as a guideline to determine how much funding to give the IT department.
  2. Which business processes should receive IT funding? It's easy for the number of concurrent IT projects to get out of hand, and senior managers are often reluctant to choose between projects. But if these choices are made only by IT managers, the organization's long-term business priorities may be overlooked.
  3. Which IT capabilities need to be organization-wide? Some systems are best standardized across the organization, but others require flexibility for individual business unit specifications. If IT executives are forced to make these decisions themselves, they may be tempted to demand complete standardization even when it is not necessary.
  4. How good do our IT services really need to be? Not every organization needs to have the most cutting-edge systems. While system downtime or occasional slow response time is always an inconvenience, most organizations can absorb such problems without significant loss. The involvement of non-IT executives can help the IT department balance costs with needed level of service, rather than just choosing the most sophisticated systems.
  5. What security and privacy risks will we accept? The demand for online access to records and information must be balanced with the need to ensure security of customer and organizational information. IT managers may be tempted to deny any access unless total security can be ensured. While this does limit security risk, such decisions are better made with the involvement of non-IT executives, who are better able to balance security risks against customer wants and needs.


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