IT departments in mid-sized companies are stifling creativity and ensuring that the full value of IT is not being exploited. That’s according to technology 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 that the way that IT departments were run was ‘stupid’ and that working in IT was more 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 its IT staff spends more than 30% of its time on administration, then it’s spending more than £30,000 a year on routine tasks.”

Cochrane said that many of 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 that 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. If you treat them like adults, you’ll get more out of them.” He said that this would include security problems – even though many IT breaches were caused by careless users.

Even more worrying for the industry is the fact that there more people think technology is a ‘necessary evil’ than think it is a ‘pro-active generator of business value’, said Mendler. She said that 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 Star Technology’s vice president for IT, John Adey. Unsurpringly, he thinks that 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 thought there were strong parallels, “a lot of IT services is a little like cleaning windows.”