IT Priorities for 2005

This is a good time to consider IT management priorities for the coming year.

Prioritisation is key for IT managers, since there are so many directions in which they may be pulled. Often, IT managers get distracted by noble efforts that turn out to be dead ends or should have been delegated to others.

Obviously, all organisations are different, and your priorities will be affected by what's going on in your organisation. However, these are the factors that I think are most likely to affect your priorities in the coming year.

1. The evolution of the CIO into an executive leader. This is certainly not a new thing, but it continues to be a significant issue for IT leaders. It's clear that in most organisations, successful IT executives are those who focus on business issues and organisational change management -- not just technology management. We know that many IT (and business) projects fail to deliver value to the organisation. Often, this is because people in the organisation struggle with the changes associated with new technology. For instance, you may build and deploy a CRM system, but the project will succeed only if the organisation's sales force uses the system. Companies are looking to IT managers to help prepare them for the changes associated with IT initiatives. This means that IT managers will be asked to assume more of a leadership role in their companies.

Suggestion: Sharpen your communication skills and bone up on change management processes.

2. A sharper focus on business processes. Companies are starting to realise that their business processes are assets. Some are going so far as to create the position of chief process officer. Others are looking to IT leaders to expand their roles in this area. At a minimum, the renewed focus on business processes presents a career opportunity for IT managers. Often, IT-oriented process models, such as ITIL and Cobit, represent good entry points for IT managers who wish to take on a more process-centric role.

Suggestion: Consider how you can improve the business-process discipline within IT and the business at large.

3. The demands of compliance. Regulatory compliance efforts, such as those required by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the US, represent a significant deployment of IT and business resources. In the coming year, companies will continue to form ongoing compliance processes, dividing roles and responsibilities between IT and the business. Smart IT leaders will be proactive about this activity, since it's critical to the long-term success of the company.

Suggestion: If you don't already have a good working relationship with the CFO, foster one.

4. The challenges of a multisourced world. Many organisations have aggressively pursued outsourcing in order to save money, improve IT service delivery or both. In the coming year, many IT leaders will focus on how to manage and continue to improve IT service delivery in this multisourced world.

Suggestion: Consider how governance, performance management and IT service delivery can be optimised in a multisourced world. In particular, look at the processes and tools that are used to manage vendor contracts and relationships.

5. The mandate to run IT like a business. This is also not a new thing, but it continues to grow in importance. This issue encompasses a lot of areas, but what I'm really getting at here is the need for IT to move up the evolutionary ladder. In other words, IT leaders will need to continue to sharpen their skills for managing people, assets and finances. The days of underused infrastructure and misaligned staff are quickly disappearing.

Suggestion: Begin with one functional area or service, such as e-mail. Look at the costs, utilisation and performance of that service. Determine how to optimise it and how to communicate and market its value to the rest of the organisation.

These issues certainly aren't the only things that will be important in the coming year, but they are among the most important. Interestingly, none of the challenges above is completely based on technology management. All of them require IT leaders who are as comfortable in the business arena as they are with technology.

Barbara Gomolski, a former Computerworld reporter, is a vice president at Gartner, where she focuses on IT financial management.

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