The five elements of leading the IT function

When it comes to leading the IT function, I believe there are five elements to consider. These are: mobility, social, cloud, trust, and Big Data. So far so boring I hear you say. But let’s expand on these themes.

Mobility and social
CIOs need to get out of the windowless basement and engage with the users. I am not talking about a scheduled trip prompted by the need to gather requirements. How will you truly understand the issues the users and your organisation’s customers face if you don’t venture beyond the IT department moat?

Your staff should be similarly mobilised, looking to build relationships at every level of the organisation. Keep in mind that the IT function and the users need to work in partnership. Partnerships are more likely to fail if the dialogue extends no further than what is necessary.

Understanding what your partner cares about operationally is of course important. Understanding their strategic intentions is critical. But even more important is what they care about from a personal perspective. This sort of information is not channelled through the service desk.

This symbolises obscurity and even obfuscation, and traditionally in the long-running war between users and the IT function, one of the strategies of the CIO was to keep the business in the dark.

Virtualisation of IT function headcount, server count, budget allocation and vendor relationships are just some examples of where CIOs have and in some cases still do feel they are exercising power. Such CIOs see business like a game of chess, where there are two clear objectives: to beat your opponent, and not to share your strategy.

But this mindset is clearly not conducive to good partnerships. Smart CIOs take a transparent approach to running their IT function, and ironically this is more empowering. CIOs have more time to get on with supporting the business if they spend less time trying to justify how their service seems expensive in relation to Apple or Google’s offerings. No further clarification is needed if there is total transparency of costs.

Some will see transparency as increased vulnerability, but better to think of it as increased intimacy, which is a key element of trust. As I have mentioned in previous articles, intimacy along with credibility, reliability and a user-oriented focus, are key elements of trust.

Credibility can be established by understanding the issues the users care about. Reliability comes from consistent service delivery at one end, right through to honouring small promises made during informal conversations.

Big Data
Why not create a digital dashboard that highlights interesting aspects of activity and outcomes in respect to the IT function? These may relate to hygiene KPIs such as the number of service desk resolutions, the number of attempted security breaches or the number of users logged in. Anything that increases transparency in this way will earn the support of your user base. You can also demonstrate the power of Big Data by setting up some sophisticated analytic displays that present business KPIs in a compelling manner, for example actual sales against planned sales and actual sales for the same period last year; geographical distribution of clients; or the number of delegates signed up for a global summit.

The IT function is also a great place to explore ‘early adoption phase’ technologies. This could help position IT as the organisation’s technology-fuelled business innovation laboratory.

As the world of technology converges with the world of lifestyle through publications such as Wired, it is very likely that users would appreciate it, from both a professional and personal perspective, if the IT function was providing them with a regular update on what’s hot (such as smart glasses) and even what lies ahead (quantum teleportation, anyone?).

Why not set up an apps lab, where you can test the suitability of the apps most likely to be embraced by the users. This could be a tall order if this is done beyond the perimeter of productivity apps. To be able to present a menu that labels the apps green (use), amber (use with caution) and red (avoid) will at least make you appear to operate in the same technological epoch as some of the younger users.

These are just some ideas as to how your IT function can move from reluctant supplier to proactive contemporary business partner. It’s your move...


Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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