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IT directors ‘crucial’ to business strategy development

Need to think about the 'bigger picture' and improve communication skills

27 March 2014

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

IT directors should help drive the performance and strategic direction of their businesses, according to a survey of 300 IT and 300 non-IT directors in UK organisations.

It found that technology is considered a strategic priority at board level for 86 per cent, with 88 per cent seeing it as an important enabler of change.

As a result, IT teams are expected to think about the 'bigger picture' (88 per cent) and communicate more effectively with the rest of the business.

This comes at a time when IT departments are also expected to manage increasingly complex technologies, which are seen as key drivers of business performance.

"Far from being the problem child of old, IT departments are now absolutely critical to the growth and strategic direction of businesses in the UK," said Jonathan Kini, enterprise commercial marketing director at Vodafone UK, which commissioned the research.

The rapid pace of technological change is one of the main reasons for the shift in fortunes of the IT department. Three quarters of respondents said technology has changed the nature of the competition that their businesses face.

IT is now seen as a key part of organisational innovation and transformation, rather than just a tool for reducing costs and remaining competitive, the research found.

However, despite their newfound importance, many IT directors and CIOs are failing to live up to these expectations in the eyes of the rest of the business.

Over a third of non-IT directors said their IT counterparts need to hone their communication skills (39 per cent) and communicate more effectively with other functions (35 per cent).

Many heads of IT are however struggling to keep up with the change in responsibility. Two-thirds (63 per cent) said they are worried about their ability to keep up to date with new technologies.

A further 59 per cent reported concerns over greater and more complicated security risks as a result of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend.

"The research points to a new generation of IT professionals who are a powerful, multi-faceted breed, thinking ahead, thinking bigger. For some, this will be second nature, for others it will take some time to get there," said Kini.

"Collaborating across functions and with other organisations - whether it is suppliers or customers - sharing knowledge and keeping on top of both business and IT developments will help develop this new mindset."

Tips for heads of IT

Vodafone has suggested that IT directors need to change the way that they both think and operate in order to meet their boards' expectations. It has provided the following five tips.

  1. Stay connected - Just being a technology expert is no longer sufficient. To be truly effective, you need to get under the skin of how your business works and think about where IT can improve it. You can help your organisation create a competitive edge by collaborating across different functions, listening closely to suppliers and customers, and monitoring the competition to look for gaps in the market that the business (and IT) can address.

  2. Earn your keep - The high cost and complexity of IT makes it even more important for the new IT crowd to be commercially savvy. New IT professionals run their P&L like their own business. They manage suppliers and costs astutely, analyse business results to increase performance and are always looking to improve. They are also innovators and early adopters, seeking out new tools and ways to collaborate with others.

  3. Look for new ways to simplify complexity - In a world where technology is constantly changing and evolving, the head of IT needs to bring calm and clarity. New IT products and services are being launched all the time. Can you keep up? What is right for your business? Simplifying complexity is what will really benefit your business and add value. Outsourcing and sharing services are great ways of creating unprecedented new ways of working, collaborating, sharing and innovating.

  4. Ensure data security is on the wider agenda - Employees increasingly want flexibility and choice in how, where and when they work to achieve a better work-life balance. The increasing demand for BYOD in the workplace certainly has clear benefits for the user and the organisation. However, the associated issues of device and data security have become a concern for many organisations. Take control of your IT infrastructure and work with end users and management to create strategies, policies and preferred applications to minimise risk.

  5. Be responsive to change - Making the transition from a technical role to an increasingly managerial and strategic one is not easy. 'Future proofed' IT professionals need to have a new set of skills not traditionally associated with IT. They need to be expert communicators, personable networkers, team players and inspiring visionaries. Acquiring a whole new set of skills can be overwhelming and ineffective, so focus on learning one new skill at a time.

The full findings of the research are published in The New IT Crowd: The role of the IT director in simplifying complexity.



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