by Liz Benison

CIOs should embrace double-deep employees

Jun 13, 20114 mins
IT LeadershipIT Strategy

Over the last few years we’ve started seeing the emergence of what I call ‘double-deep employees’: people in marketing, finance and other business areas who not only are well versed in all the traditional (single deep) functions of their role, but have also learned enough about the relevant information technologies to use them competently.

As a CIO, these could be your worst nightmare- those picky users who will make the life of your teams hell! Or you could choose to embrace these new double-deep employees as key members of your team.

By immersing themselves  in modern, increasingly consumerised IT, each new generation brings more IT experience and ability to the workplace than their predecessors, and is more likely to want to apply IT to whatever task they face. At the same time, technology tools are improving all the time, enabling IT to become much more useful to almost any information-intensive work.

So what if you brought these double-deep employees into your IT organisation? What can they bring to their role within the team and to the organisation as a whole?

The changing role of the CIO

Traditionally, the IT function has tended to perform a reactive provider role towards the business, supplying systems and services in response to business demands. But now that IT pervades so many aspects of business life, it’s time for the IT function to move closer to the business and take a more proactive approach to interaction.

So we need to identify and nurture the double-deep employees within our own teams — the people who have the potential to take on wider leadership roles within the organisation as a whole.

Research shows that to help ensure an organisation’s competitive success, the IT function needs to start addressing a range of new business/IT relationship models. These include technology promoter—educating and evangelising about technology in a way that’s relevant to and easily understood by business leaders; business partner—acting as an agent of change within the business; and executive peer—able to guide and advise business executives on the strategic impact of IT.

The IT executives who take on these business-facing roles need to start acting as ‘business relationship managers’. They need to become double-deep employees who can add business-focused skills, broad knowledge of the business and change management capabilities to their existing IT skillsets and understanding of relevant technologies.

So how does a CIO identify those members of the IT function who are suited to taking on this role? Personal attributes are critical. In the first place, you need to look for people who have a confident style that projects their authority in a way that’s independent of any hierarchical position.

You need to identify people with the competencies that will produce outstanding performance in the business relationship management role. These include business acumen, strategic thinking and influencing, sifting out critical information, making judgement calls, showing initiative and demonstrating political awareness.

You may have people in the team who already have some or all of these qualities and characteristics: others will need to develop them and reinforce their credibility with their own knowledge and experience. Organisations who find themselves short of potential business relationship managers within the IT function are showing increasing interest in training and education courses aimed at building and reinforcing the necessary skills and aptitudes. In the peer role—usually senior members of the IT function who are invited to contribute actively to matters of strategic importance—personality is a critical factor. To carry out the peer role really effectively, you need to identify someone who is outgoing, comfortable working alongside business executives, and sensitive to company politics. They must be able to explain technology-related opportunities, threats and constraints in business language.

By making themselves indispensable at a business strategy level, they’ll be invited to join board-level discussions and will ultimately take the role of the double-deep employee to its logical conclusion—becoming business leaders whose portfolio happens to include IT.

About the author:

Liz Benison joined CSC in January 2011, as Vice President and COO for the UK and Ireland Region.

Prior to joining, Liz spent six years in leadership roles at Capgemini. She was the Global Director of Operations for Capgemini’s Financial Services Business. Prior to this, Liz was the Chief Operating Officer for Capgemini’s Technology Services business in the UK. She also worked for Ford in an IT role providing support for manufacturing and engineering before moving to join Druid, a UK SAP consulting firm, where she was responsible for the aerospace and defence practice before becoming the UK managing director.

Liz is a graduate of Nottingham University’s engineering faculty and trained as a manufacturing engineer with Jaguar Cars.