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Understanding IT

Measuring leadership is always problematic.

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Vera a leonik
July 09, 2007

Vera a leonik
eMarketing specialist at Qulix Systems,Belarus, Eastern Europe,  23 years old
Vera a leonik has written 3 articles for WebKnowHow.
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There are few professions which require as much continuous updating as that of the Information System (IS) executives. Not only does the hardware and software scene change relentlessly, but also ideas about the actual management of the IS function are being continuously modified, updated and changed.

Business experts are paying much attention to IT. And it is not more technology they are looking for – it is more business.

The vast majority of IT departments do not work effectively within their organizations. They seem to work really hard, but their frenetic activities often seem to miss the point of business. Most business executives hold that belief in some part as well. Companies need security, IT capacity forward compatibility. It appeared that delivering IT without fuss, getting involved in business activities and giving business good leadership are expectations of thousands of CEOs. They will always support business going forward by providing stable, flexible and cost-effective information technologies to meet their needs.

IT people are IT people
Usually people in that domain have three loyalties - in descending order they are loyal to:
• Their technology
• Their industry
• Their company, if they are not contractors or outsourcers
• If they are contractors the people who pay salaries come fourth in their list of loyalties

No doubt that this is a generalization but it serves to raise the question. It seems that IT people are technology people - first, computer people - second, and business people - third.
Most of business people express the same frustration: business and IT do not understand each other. Of course there are exceptions.

Most of the surveys about IT found out that:
• IT people do not communicate
• IT people are too focused on technology
• IT is perceived as more expensive as it should be

These factors are linked. Most IT people admit that they do not communicate very well. But they don’t realize that communication and the attendant activities (measuring reporting, consulting listening), are the most crucial expectations that business has of them.

There is a history behind the current roles of IT in organizations. Initially IT (or data processing, as it was in those days) was used in business to automate repetitive and complex tasks, usually financial in nature. This is still the case in many organizations, in spite of the fact that most computer applications today have little to do with pure finances.

To the business, pure IT is like a toilet – they do not want to know about that unless it’s broken.
This is a bad news for IT people, because they believe that if the business is spending so much money on technology then the surely should show some interest or even make some effort to understand the issues. And the answer is no. Business in general doesn’t want to know. And why should they? Their expectation is that IT should ‘handle things’, guiding the organization through the technological escape, applying their technological expertise to resolve the problems they keep bringing to business.

The job of the IT leader is to interpret the external world, particularly the technological world because that’s his or her role in the company. The leader then applies knowledge of the business world, and filters both the technological and business knowledge through the organization’s strategy.

The job of the leader is to manage meaning in the organization, with technical perspective where necessary.

The job of the leader is to manage attention. What are people doing and is that what they are doing appropriate to the organization strategy? This is difficult, not so much in getting people to take up a new challenge, but to stop doing the unnecessary stuff, which falls outside what is meaningful for the organization. In very large companies there is a significant amount of activity which is totally unnecessary, often a leftover from some long-dead initiative. The leader manages attention away from meaningless activity towards meaningful (in the company context) activity. The strategy plays a major role on managing attention, because it translates intention into measurable objectives.

Another role of the leader is to build understanding within .This is especially true to the IT leader the organization. An IT leader must be able to construct easy-to-understand, clear frameworks and models to build understanding of technology and IT concepts within the rest of the organization. And he or she must then be able to communicate these ideas.

Crucial: If a CIO cannot talk in business terms, then he must be able to talk in analogues terms. Never in technical terms. It is not the responsibility of business to learn technology- it is often a double–edge sword anyway as there is nothing more dangerous that a marginally informed amateur technologist in a company. So the job of the leader is to use all these new understanding, meaning and attention to drive the organization into new territories, crossing new boundaries, meeting new challenges and so on.

Finally, the job of the leader comes back to the purpose of any organization - maintain sustainability in the future. For profit-driven companies, this involves new products, services and markets, while for not-for-profit organizations this often involves services and customer satisfaction. So leadership is bringing driving changes into a new and constantly changing environment.

Measuring IT leadership
Measuring leadership is always problematic. Reporting and measurement is difficult for many IT people.

We believe that IT is at a crossroads: to turn right is to be wedged between advancing business competence in the IT domain and between aggressive outsourcers and solution providers.
To continue straight is to see itself as a support role in the business world – building and running their systems for them, but believing that business people must do the business stuff.
To take left - to understand what business really wants from IT and to meet the expectations and to challenge the role that IT plays in business. This is a business role, with a strong IT perspective. But this way leads uphill. This road is long and hard. But how else will IT get to the top of the organization?

This could be the beginning of the end – it is you to make a choice.

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