Executives can't discount an e-business manager's technical ability, but they need more from their IT executives and e-business managers. They want those IT managers to be controlled risk takers -- and good technologists.
For Steve Pollock, president of Wetfeet.com Inc., a San Francisco-based online recruitment company, the technical ability of his IT staff is important. "For most technical positions, people must first and foremost have the technical chops ... We also need everyone to have a strong sensitivity to the overall business issues we face as a company, and if [candidates] do not have this understanding or seem incapable of developing it, we would not hire them."
Pollock's views are reflected in "Managing in the Digital Economy: Do you have what it takes?" a study released in July by Accenture's Institute for Strategic Change, in Cambridge, Mass. Executives want e-business managers whom they can trust with both technology and business decisions.
"E-business executives need to recognize that the technology is no longer merely a support organization; it is the business model. Corporate strategies are integrally linked to technological capabilities," says Jeannie Harris, study author and associate partner and senior research fellow at the institute.
With IT inextricably entwined with corporate strategy, Harris says that senior executives are looking for e-business managers with entrepreneurial tendencies. "The tone of big business changes is that e-business managers need to be both entrepreneurs and take risks but also be good managers and control that risk. The most successful e-business managers will have the ability to do both."
A quality leader
In particular, the study surveyed 80 executives representing 60 companies across both pure-play and traditional business models. These leaders want e-business managers who understand technology, seek sophisticated partnering opportunities, continually learn and challenge others to learn, anticipate market changes, and effectively manage talent.
According to the study, successful e-business managers are energized by risk-taking, thrive amid ambiguity, can stay focused despite intense overload, are mentally agile, and have abundant energy and stamina.
"All of those are qualities that I look for in entrepreneurial [e-business staff members] who can meet clients' needs. But above all, they have to be adaptable," says Jeff Wegner, CTO of Tax Technologies Inc., in Sarasota, Fla.
"Certainly all of my direct reports meet those criteria to a T," Wegner says. With an e-business staff that combines IT skill and entrepreneurial drive, the CTO says that IT executives -- and, in effect, senior management -- will "get more productive and more adaptable teams that deliver more products more often."
Meeting business needs
Hunter Muller, founder of the Hunter Management Group LLC in Westport, Conn., and the Technology Leadership Council, a CIO-level roundtable, believes that IT executives are wise to conduct a future-needs analysis to determine if a gap exists between the IT department's abilities and the enterprise's bottom-line mission.
"In effect [IT executives] need to discuss the initiatives and projects that they want to fully implement in the next six to 18 months. What are the performance competencies needed? Most likely the gaps will be soft skills. I've been working on that issue for 14 years," Muller says.
"Technology people must become more business-focused and business-directed. Without the focus on business, IT will be left out of the game. They won't be invited to the business meetings where e-business criteria are defined in the business units," says Muller. Ultimately, managers of e-business initiatives at any level must base the mission of the IT organization on increased revenues, reduced costs, and ultimately shareholder value. And for Muller, that comes down to an important point. "CIOs must think like CEOs."
Accenture's Harris says, "Even the most technically literate CEO needs colleagues they can rely on to advise them on the latest innovations and their potential implications for the business. Senior executives who have close relationships with more technically savvy colleagues are better prepared to make management decisions in the Web environment."
Wetfeet.com's president agrees. "Our key organizational need is to deliver revenues that are higher than expenses, and we fully expect that people on the IT staff understand and contribute to this effort through their work. On a daily level, this means that they help us find efficient solutions on the IT front, that they understand the business case for different approaches to work, that they have great sensitivity to our customers, and that they work in close cooperation with others throughout the organization to achieve our goals," Pollock says.