IT-Management – no future for techies?
CIOs must be business and IT experts


Changes in business will transform the roles of IT directors.

IT-Management – no future for techies?

The relationship between business and technology management is set to be transformed over the next few years, leading to fundamental changes in the role of IT director and chief information officer (CIO).

Analyst Gartner says the IT department as we know it could be dead within five years. An increased concentration on business processes and outsourcing means that at least 60 per cent of IT departments will have halved their in-house workforce by 2008, compared with the average department size in 2000.

IT directors will begin to take on more management-focused roles in different areas of the organisation, as IT becomes more embedded in the business.

Gartner forecasts that at least one-third of IT director roles will change or disappear by 2009. And the remaining CIOs will need to spend more than 50 per cent of their time on external relationships to ensure they deliver expected results.

Simon La Fosse, director of recruitment specialist Harvey Nash, says fundamental changes in the role of the CIO are already taking place.

‘There is a clear opportunity for IT directors to step up to the mark. Whether they do or not will be determined on an individual basis,’ he says.

‘The increasing commoditisation of information services means that a technology-focused IT director will have just a walk-on part to play.

‘On the other hand, the future looks rosy for IT directors who make the shift towards business, and I see them being brought into the heart of the organisation.’

The issue for IT directors is how to become a forward-looking CIO. It’s a big question, says La Fosse, and understanding business alignment is a big part of the answer.

But in addition, taking on a chunk of the organisation that is not related to technology provision will certainly help IT directors get a better all-round sense of the business.

Harvey Nash’s annual survey suggests that about 60 per cent of CIOs have a degree of responsibility outside of IT.

‘It would seem that the journey has already begun, and this has to be good news for both CIOs and their organisations,’ says La Fosse.

Evidence from UK IT directors backs up this assertion. Carl Dawson, IT director of Thomas Cook, says his role is now far more business-driven than it used to be.

‘My job is less IT director and more the person that works out how the business is going to do what it wants to do with technology,’ he says.

The integration of technology systems with organisational demands is also set to increase further, as companies search for ever-more efficient business processes.

By 2009, Gartner predicts the management of business processes will supersede management of technology as the leading value contribution for more than 50 per cent of blue-chip IT teams.

‘The IT department needs to be far more responsive to the needs of the business than just going off and developing systems that it thinks the business wants,’ says Dawson.

So while technology still matters, the IT director of the future will need to create a much closer working relationship with the different business functions of the organisation.

‘My job is more about the business – and it’s about delivering IT to support the business. But I couldn’t do that if I didn’t understand technology,’ says Dawson.

‘There will still be IT directors in three to five years’ time – but they need to be far more closely integrated with what the business wants.’

Dawson says the demands of managing technology in the business will be particularly relevant for those IT directors who continue to use outsourcing.

More and more companies will continue to rely on a range of sourcing options over the next three years.

For those businesses that rely on external service provision, Training Camp founder Robert Chapman says leadership will become the most important skill for IT directors.

‘As outsourcing deals grow, it will fall to the head of IT not only to project manage internal and external staff, but also to be able to report confidently to the board on project progression and how any difficulties are being overcome,’ he says.

‘Communication with all levels will be crucial as our dependence on increasingly sophisticated technology increases. Workers respect those leaders who can motivate all staff to adopt and understand how new services will benefit their daily operations.’

Good leadership is also about organisation. Fahri Zihni, ICT director at Aston University, says UK businesses and the public sector will need sophisticated IT directors who can get a real handle on the uses and abuses of technology.

‘Everybody accepts that information and communication technology is mission-critical to so many aspects of organisational performance,’ he says. ‘But many management boards still naively believe that there is glorious isolation between users, who decide on what they need, and technologists, who basically translate business requirements into technology systems.’

John Worth, CIO of Prudential, says the forward-thinking IT director of the future will make the connection between people and success.

‘It is sometimes forgotten that a motivated, capable workforce delivers faster, smarter, higher-quality work. People should therefore be the emphasis, rather than the afterthought,’ he says.

Worth says that most importantly, the CIO needs to look at fostering a learning culture, where members of the technology department can develop the ability to communicate and network, rather than particular technical skills.

Stakeholders need to work together to make IT work

Many technology leaders in public and private sector organisations fail to recognise that innovative, IT-intensive environments require complete integration between all relevant stakeholders, says Fahri Zihni, ICT director at Aston University. These stakeholders include the board, end users, customers and suppliers.

‘If any one of these stakeholders loses the plot, IT is bound for failure,’ he says.

And it is up to the CIO to recognise that if stakeholders work well with each other, an organisation is likely to gain profound competitive advantage over its competitors.

‘New projects will sometimes be led by users who have a particular business need. But suppliers will often come up with the ideas and means for doing things differently, and in-house IT directors will need to make sense of suppliers’ suggestions alongside their end users’ proposals,’ says Zihni.

‘Technology leaders will also need to take on board and understand new technologies, when there is demonstrable benefit for the whole organisation.’

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