IT collaboration Featured

5:21am EDT November 2, 2005
"The task of a leader is to take people from where they are to where they have not been" -- Henry Kissinger

In the past, the prevailing profile for successful CIOs and their staff revolved around technical expertise. Not much time or effort was spent developing soft skills and business acumen.

In retrospect, it is not hard to understand why some CEO/CIO relationships floundered or broke. Expectations were misaligned, primarily because IT professionals did not respond to the changing marketplace. Simply put, IT roles and accountabilities were too narrowly defined to meet present business needs.

Today, IT leaders and teams face a completely different set of expectations and challenges. A November 2004 CIO update from Gartner Research found that nearly two-thirds of CEOs and CFOs believe the most critical skills for IT management success are:

  • Strategic thinking and planning

  • Understanding business operations

  • Ability to articulate the value of IT as related to business objectives

No mention of technology. So what are business leaders really looking for? IT professionals who can align solutions with business needs.

The right skills
Due to this changing marketplace, many companies are shifting IT hiring criteria toward the following soft skills and interpersonal competencies.

  • Business acumen
  • Change management
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Process understanding
  • Negotiating and communications

These business management skills are so essential that many companies have placed a business leader in the top IT position to speed the transformation from technology-oriented to business-oriented decision-making.

Ideally, IT should be viewed as essential to achieving strategic business goals. Securing the right people for the job is the first step.

Reviewing behavior of the IT organization is also critical. Behaviors of the past are not the behaviors that will enhance IT contributions to business objectives today.

C-level executives might consider the following.

  • Executive relationships -- Does your CIO have a healthy relationship with your CEO? Is there a spirit of collaboration among executives? Is someone in a position of authority within the business a sponsor of IT?

  • Business planning -- Is IT included in business planning? Participation is essential to help IT understand business initiatives that may benefit from IT solutions. If IT is an afterthought in business planning, opportunities for creative IT solutions will be missed.

  • Change management -- What role does IT play in leading organizational and/or business process change? Are senior IT leaders accountable for change management successes or failures?

    Business-minded IT executives -- working closely with operational executives -- are critical to improving overall business results through effective change management.

  • IT accountability -- When delivering solutions, does IT only answer to IT? If so, how does the business participate in the IT solution delivery process?

    Ensure that both business and IT are held mutually accountable for success.

  • IT portfolio management -- Who decides which IT projects to perform, and in what sequence? Simply put, project selection is critical and must be adaptive to ongoing business changes. Cross-functional executive collaboration and quarterly reprioritization are recommended.

  • Communication -- How do you inform employees about IT contributions and corresponding business impacts? Employees need to know how their contributions improve the business. Business units need to hear what IT is doing and why.

  • Defining success -- How does IT define success? Do they think, speak and measure IT achievement in business terms? If your data center manager is talking to the CFO, does he say, "We just successfully installed a Cray super-computer"?

    Or does he say, "We now have the processing power to complete the monthly accounting close process three days earlier"?

These subtle behaviors are difficult to instill, but they are powerful strategies for aligning and demonstrating IT's business value on a daily basis.

Bill Hazelton is vice president and area director for CIBER in Michigan and Wisconsin, and can be reached at (248) 352-8650 or at whazelton@ciber.com. CIBER Inc., founded in Detroit, is a global IT consulting firm which builds, integrates and supports critical business applications in custom and enterprise resource planning (ERP) environments. Visit the company's Web site at www.ciber.com.