IT evolves to costly, dead-end role

In the past five years companies have moulded IT professionals into back-end process managers heading up a cost centre that simply services the business, according to Meta Group's Asia Pacific managing director Mary Ann Maxwell.

In a bleak appraisal of how IT professionals are evolving in the Australian enterprise, Maxwell said companies still do not value the most critical elements of an effective CIO, namely people skills and good communication which includes the ability to persuade and influence.

She said few companies reward such skills and that in the past few years, "I doubt organizations even cared about these qualities."

While industry pundits espouse the importance of leadership qualities in the makeup of a successful IT pro, Maxwell proposes that a more humanitarian model of leadership is one which instils values like trust, openness and team recognition.

Urging IT leaders to enhance their value within the enterprise by developing these skills, she warned IT pros to stop allowing short-term fire-fighting to cloud their agenda.

With more than 30 years senior IT management experience in Australia and the US, Maxwell can attest to the need for companies to measure whether their IT leader is making an impact on the business. Before joining Meta Group in November as the its chief analyst in the region, Maxwell was CIO of Westpac.

There, her performance was measured via a 360-degree review process, with "more emphasis on leadership skills than on 'did I deliver' on a product".

How she was recognised, rewarded and compensated was tied to that benchmark. "I was measured on whether I was invited to the table for business unit planning sessions or if I got the output of those meetings. I'd ask 'How can I bring value to the planning or output process?' It wasn't about just coming up with a wow factor for a new technology. The quality of my business relationships was crucial. True business success is measured on them. And I think CIOs often fail on that performance factor."

She said an organization's culture is key to producing IT leaders with a balance of leadership and management skills, adding that managers who try to lead by control and command breed a toxic culture that rewards heroism instead of team effort.

Leadership qualities

Meta Group says that good leaders are leaders first, process masters second.

Influence

  • Comes from clear, consistent and reciprocated communication with peers and by building the organization's trust.
  • Spend time nurturing that sort of management culture. Bad leadership in a company is self-destructive.
  • Good leaders know when it's time to stop talking and start executing on their collaborative efforts.

Build an 'Adaptive Organization'

  • Work to improve the economics of business change to enhance your organization's profitability, growth and integrity.
  • Leverage IT to automate new ways of collaborating, resource-sharing and sourcing to optimise people, products, technologies and processes in a timely way for a changing market.

Execute and deliver

  • Organize your IT function.
  • Engineer your IT infrastructure to meet the businesses' needs.
  • Implement the right policies to allow people to execute on business strategies.

Credibility

  • Build good business relationships in and outside the organization - CIOs' success depends on this.
  • Are you invited to make input or help deliver on business strategy with your executive peers?
  • Do you have the credibility to approach other managers to suggest change or create new opportunities through IT?

Control cost

  • Cut costs within reason. Don't let your IT infrastructure become inefficient or detrimental to business effectiveness.
  • Ask yourself if the company is making the right IT investments.

Encourage and reward team wins

  • Focus on the team. Reward group achievements, not individuals only focused on heroism.
  • Give people the resources they need to make a positive impact in their job.

Continue education and learning

  • MBAs or post-graduate qualifications can help polish management and leadership skills.
  • Never assume "you know business" if you have an MBA; they provide a theoretical understanding of business, not necessarily practical value.
  • Work outside your comfort zone in different cultures, geographies, industries, organizations and business units.

- Source: Mary Ann Maxwell, managing director, Meta Group Asia-Pacific

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