IT departments in mid-sized companies are stifling creativity and ensuring that the full value of technology is not being exploited. That’s according to consultant Peter Cochrane, the former head technologist for BT.

Cochrane, who was speaking at the launch of a Star Technology report, From basement to boardroom: recognising the business value of IT, compiled by the Yankee Group, said the way IT departments were run was "stupid" and that working in IT was akin to a "prison sentence".

The survey revealed that 30 percent of IT managers spent no time at all in building an IT strategy and that up to 70 percent of time is spent on general "fire-fighting". Camille Mendler, the Yankee Group's vice-president of international telecoms strategies, said: "If a company has an average salary bill of £90,000 for IT staff, and they spend more than 30 percent of their time on administration, then it's spending more than £30,000 a year on routine tasks."

Cochrane said many present-day technical problems do not need IT staff to solve them. "In one company I looked at, printing problems would be solved by the receptionist. If it was too complicated for her, she would just ring up the company that sold it – IT staff would probably have done exactly the same."

He said companies should tell their end-users that they were responsible for their own PCs to encourage greater responsibility. "If you treat people like children, then they'll behave like children," Cochrane said. "If you treat them like adults, you’ll get more out of them."

He added that this would include security problems – even though many IT breaches are caused by careless users.

Even more worrying for the industry is the fact that more people think technology is a "necessary evil" than think it is a "proactive generator of business value", said Mendler. She said IT staff could be better employed in thinking of ways of using technology to improve a company’s business – for example, in improving the way it handles its customers.

The research shows the need for companies to look at their own IT needs more carefully, said John Adey, Star Technology's vice president of IT. Unsurpringly, he thinks organisations should be more prepared to look at managed services.

"A company would be mad to clean its own windows and has no problems in employing a window cleaner. But they don’t feel they can do the same with IT staff," he said.

Adey claimed there are strong parallels. "A lot of IT services is a little like cleaning windows," he said.

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