With 2008 just around the corner, the annual planning cycle has concluded for most IT organisations. Everyone has carefully crafted their annual plan, diligently defended their budget allocations, and are now ready to positively produce outstanding systems and services for another year. But wait… have you forgotten something? As technology continues to become more central to the business and understanding of it matures, IT management best practices move on — sometimes in quite subtle and unexpected ways. A practice or policy that has worked well for the past five or 10 years can become counterproductive today. But it won’t change all by itself. In addition to their traditional annual IT plan, savvy CIOs incorporate emerging IT management tactics into their strategies.
Here are some suggestions:
• Embrace and extend new end-user-empowering technologies: The reality is that IT has less and less control over what application users actually use. The tools are just getting better and better, and easier and easier to use. Users can pull down a variety of ready-to-use applications from sources such as Google. Since IT often does not have much choice about what users use, why not be proactive in introducing end-user-empowering technologies to your enterprise? Influence what they want, rather than resisting the decisions that they have made independently.
• Reduce emphasis on technical feasibility studies: Today, most things are technically possible. However, the templates in project initiation processes may still be calling for significant analysis at this step to reduce risk. Frankly, that is often wasted effort that you could deploy answering more relevant questions. For example, can you get the right collection of vendors working together? Can you make things slick and safe and easy? Can you deliver a project speedily and to all the necessary geographies? Formulating the answers to these kinds of questions is often more valuable and productive than deciding if the project is technically feasible.
• Build relationship capital on data rationalisation, not call-out response times: In an attempt to be internal-customer-friendly, some IT departments get stuck in a rut of continuous improvement to yesterday’s service metrics. Beware of diminishing returns on that old high-visibility stalwart — desktop support. Today’s key executive headache is data overload and not being able to find a single version of the truth that can enlighten and inform daily management actions. If you tell a business unit that IT can provide it with the information that the unit needs to make business-critical decisions, this will almost always win more points than reducing the desktop support call out response time by a few minutes.
• Invite business managers to police their own people: The IT organisation should not be held solely responsible for monitoring email content, locking down computers or blocking unsavoury web sites. Local managers are expected to take frontline responsibility for other aspects of staff behaviour, such as safety and work rule compliance. Business unit heads, not the CIO, should be responsible for how their teams use or abuse technology. Giving them the information they need to do so is different than taking on the role of policing their staff for them. The former is an appropriate service for IT to provide, the latter consumes your resources at a significant opportunity cost.
• Invest in nurturing and cultivating new skills: IT staff in project management, account management, cultivation of business relationships, management of portfolios and strategic planning are in short supply now and it’s set to get worse. IT departments need a lot more of them. It’s unlikely that you’ll simply be able to buy them, unless your company has the brand charisma of Ferrari or the pay structures of a Goldman Sachs. So accept that you will need to “manufacture” them internally and give your people the job rotations and experiences that build their skills.
• Fast-track a few “digital natives” into leadership roles: The new generation of “digital natives” must be brought into leadership roles. They represent the views, understanding and capabilities of a new generation of net-literate stakeholders — customers, employees, investors and business partners. However, there are a lot of IT leadership team meetings where everyone around the table is either a “digital immigrant” or a “digital ignorant”. Changing this may mean giving up some old ideas about a person needing to put in 20 years before he or she gets a seat at the top table, while creating an accelerated path for some high-potential staff.
Mary Ann Maxwell is group vice-president, executive programmes, Gartner.
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