by Martha Heller

5 Eternal Truths of IT Leadership

Jul 09, 20135 mins
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Alcatel-Lucent's Robin Dargue has a bit of the philosopher about him, here he gives some of his 'eternal truths of IT leadership.'

Robin Dargue, CIO, Alcate-Lucent
I had the opportunity to chat recently with Robin Dargue, EVP Business & IT Transformation, Alcatel-Lucent.  I realized half-way through the conversation, that Dargue has a bit of the philosopher about him, so I decided to structure our interview as a series of “eternal truths of IT leadership.” Enjoy!

Truth #1: The number one risk to a program’s success is a lack of sponsorship.

If you don’t have a sponsor, don’t do the project.  To ensure that a sponsor remains engaged throughout the length of a project, use a gating process that continually checks that the sponsor is doing his or her part.  If the sponsor’s engagement slips, fix the sponsorship or stop the project .  

We test sponsorship on Day One of the project.  If our sponsor wobbles at the very beginning, why get started?

Our gating process is a standard, off-the-shelf process. It asks: do you have a business case? Have you gathered the appropriate requirements? Have you tested? (I have found that many  companies do not use basic  gating; they start a project, fail to check in on it, and then wonder why they never finish.)

We also do a “lessons learned” session as soon as the project is complete. How was the delivery? Was the project executed well? And then six months later, we check in on whether we received the benefits we were after. 

By the way, unless the project’s benefits are baked into the sponsor’s P&L, the sponsor is not a real sponsor.

Truth #2: The sponsor should be the lowest level executive in the organization who has oversight over the people impacted by the program.

In other words, the sponsor should be the manager who is directly responsible for the organization that is going through the change.  For cross-functional projects, unless the COO or the CEO is the sponsor the program will fail.

Truth #3: You should organize your IT function so that it aligns with the business structure you want to achieve, not the one you currently have.

If your company is currently structured by localized business units, but it plans to operate more globally in the future, the IT organization should be structured globally before the rest of the company gets there.

Truth #4: It is a mistake to organize business facing IT leaders by business function, because every time the business restructures, IT has to change.

I’d rather organize my business facing IT leaders by business processes, because processes remain constant regardless of the structure of the business.   We have business facing people for processes like lead-to-cash, supply chain, and finance, because those processes are so critical to our business. Those people focus on strategy, business cases, requirements gathering, and project delivery.

Truth #5: We often sacrifice future agility for current agility, and that’s a problem.

As a CIO, it is getting more challenging to balance the business demand for quicker delivery with a solution that is sustainable for the future.  We may deliver some new program quickly today, but in four years, people will come back say, “What idiot made that decision? Now, we have to rework everything.”

This is probably my toughest challenge:  My business partners want to tactical solutions so fast that they will not wait until we architect the solutions correctly.   I can deliver quickly, because they want it now, but then they will wonder why it cost so much (TCO).  It is easier to do a little bolt-on than to make major infrastructure changes, but in the future, we’ll wind up managing 20 different bolt-ons with 20 different providers and 20 different data structures.  New companies with new technologies don’t really need to worry about this.  But for those of us who work in big legacy environments, this is becoming a major challenge. 

About Robin Dargue and Alcatel-Lucent

Robin Dargue is Executive Vice-President of Alcatel-Lucent in charge of Business & Information Technology Transformation. Robin joined Alcatel-Lucent from the Royal Mail Group where he served as Chief Information Officer and Technology Director in charge of a vast IT-based transformation program. At Royal Mail, he oversaw the implementation of 30,000 handheld devices supported by the UK’s largest Wi-Fi network, and the introduction of a number of new technology-led products and services for customers, while executing the modernization of the organization technology assets. Prior to Royal Mail, Robin was CIO and Business Process Director at Diageo plc and held various IT leadership positions at Mars and Logica. Robin Dargue has a degree in computer science from Strathclyde University.

The long-trusted partner of service providers, enterprises and governments around the world, Alcatel-Lucent is a leading innovator in the field of networking and communications technology, products and services. The company is home to Bell Labs, one of the world’s foremost research centers, responsible for breakthroughs that have shaped the networking and communications industry

Alcatel-Lucent innovations are regularly recognized by international institutions for their positive impact on society. In 2012 and for the second year running, Alcatel-Lucent was named one of the Thomson Reuters Top 100 Global Innovators, recognition for the company’s continued addition to its world-class patent portfolio, one of the largest in the telecom industry. Alcatel-Lucent has also been recognized for its sustainability performance. In 2012 the company was ranked Technology Supersector Leader by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Through its innovations, Alcatel-Lucent is making communications more sustainable, more affordable and more accessible as we pursue our mission of Realizing the Potential of a Connected World

With operations throughout the world, Alcatel-Lucent is a local partner with global reach. The Company achieved revenues of Euro 14.4 billion in 2012 and is incorporated in France and headquartered in Paris.