Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Leadership and Strategy

Spent all day today in a UCISA Leadership Forum - an annual event designed for CIOs and Directors of IT Services. excellent day with a number of very good speakers. We covered three areas - Strategy, Authority and Responsibilty.

The first session was about developing strategy and governance to increase ICT effectiveness, beginning by looking at the definition of strategy, and the difference between leadership and management. The speaker suggested that leadership is about vision, negotiation and conviction. Management is operational and is about delivering services.

In the development of an ICT strategy you need to take into account vision, goals, resource needs etc, but the key factor is to involve the business. If the development of an ICT strategy is driven by the IT department in isolation, then it can be difficult to get business units to engage with it, they can abdicate any responsibility for its delivery, they don't engage, and will ignore the outcomes – for example ignore the policies and standards, flout rules, and present requests out of the blue.

The speaker postulated that any ICT strategy will be ineffective unless strong governance in place, and all business managers must participate in ICT governance and ensure the delivery of business benefits. This is not an ICT job, they are the servants producing the systems.

ICT managers must talk to the top management team to need to win hearts and minds not by talking about technology but about business benefits. It was suggested that when you have their attention, you should talk about the terms of reference for an ICT governance board, and its responsibilities and explain the importance of good governance.

The above issues were well presented, and most I agreed with, but not all. I don't believe we are servants producing systems - we have to be much more than that - facilitators and enablers. I also don't think I would necessarily grab my senior management team's attention by talking about governance - I'd much rather talk about how IT can improve the business of the organisation.

The next session looked at a transformational change programme in a County Council and the role of the CIO in this process. This began by emphasising that ICT is not the driver of change, but the enabler. It is too easy for business leaders to think they’re investing in technology, whereas the reality is that there are only business outcomes to invest in and ICT exists to enable them to happen. Engagement between ICT and the business must be at the top level, and this needs to be robust in order to stop the finger pointing syndrome. “I didn’t deliver x because ICT didn’t deliver the system I needed.” That could never happen in our institutions could it???

This particular council had undergone a major change programme, reviewing and streamlining all of its processes, with ICT playing a leading enabling role. The prerequisites for change have to include dissatisfaction with the status quo. If people are happy with how they're doing things, they won't change. If that dissatisfaction is not there, then it has to be created. There has to be commitment to change at all levels of the organisation, and very clear communication about the need and reasons for change, not just what the changes will be. Use expectations have to be managed - under promise and over deliver. Old ways of doing things must be removed - take away the tools that allow users to circumvent new systems. Most importantly, prioritise business benefits over savings and cost cutting.

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