Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Just say Yes!

The recent spate of bank holidays and long weekends has meant a bit of a gap in blogging, but hopefully normal service is about to be resumed. Today I'm in London for the start of the Gartner Higher Education European Forum. Tonight we had a networking dinner with other CIOs, and  Dave Aaron led a discussion on Ways out of Leadership Deadlocks. So, is it easier to be an it leader now ? Are people more open to change because of the financial situation. Or is it harder? Are people's expectations higher? Do they want more services, to be more reliable and easy to use? But, few if any of us are getting more cash.

In these changing times, has IT leadership got better, has it evolved, and what barriers do we face?  Round our dinner tables we were given five possible issues to discuss and come up with solutions to. Listed below, with the notes of some of the things that came up in our discussions,

 1. Ineffectual IT governance.
First question we asked was What is IT governance? Do we need it. Should we get rid of IT committees ( as we have done), and have influence through business committees such as Learning and Teaching Committee or Research Committee. Related to maturity of the business of the organisation. Amazon and eBay for example don't have IT committees, it's just part of their business.
IT governance can include ITIL, project management, financial planning.
Definitely should be integrated with the business of the institution, and should involve customers, eg students and possibly people from outside.  Use a non executive on IT related decision making bodies?

2.   Lack of ownership and accountability for IT intensive  projects. 
For example, accidental ownership - the IT dept suddenly finds itself owning a project such as a new finance system.

Take ownership and control where appropriate,  assess the risk and benefits.  Could be better if the IT dept owns it. If not, get high level sponsorship from outside IT. 
Business depts have to play their part in making projects successful, especially through benefit management and realisation. Clarify outcomes at the start. Don't call business projects  IT projects. Best way to fail, call something the SAP implementation project. :-)
One CIO had introduced partner scorecards, where departments were scored on a number of issues eg did they participate in IT discussions, did they have an IT strategy, did they send good people to project meetings. Scores were made public, and used in strategic  discussions. Interesting idea! 

3.   Lack of executive interest in IT, (or the wrong kind of interest eg cost only, or fads)

Talk their language. Don't talk IT. Talk services, not systems. Outline the benefits. Make a business case. Have a disaster. Cost services. Business benefits are important
Should executive be they be interested in IT? T they just be interested in services and innovation.
Use dissonant communications, to explain concepts. Be slightly shocking. Surprise. Cartoons. Visual representations. 

4.   IT staff associate more with IT than the business, ie  the University. Will say they work in  IT, not  at a University.

Focus on services not systems. Introduce service management. Create an environment where staff understand teaching and learning and research. Don't talk about them as separate. IT is part of the business. Get them out of their silos. Put them on front desks, help desks. Take them with you to user groups. Take them out to talk to staff and students. Talk to IT people in depts. 
 Base objectives around the success of the university. Use business success metrics, not IT success metrics.
Create sense of pride around what the University does. 
Introduce shadowing projects. 
Sit in a classroom. Single biggest manifestation of IT to a student is in the lecture theatre.

5.   IT staff having limited understanding of the business, and have the wrong skills.  Not just technical skills but business knowledge and behavioural and managerial skills. 

Everyone in the dept needs to know the business. Training very important, especially in non technical skills. 
Also a problem with IT staff having very limited understanding of customers needs, especially students.
Technical people can be very limited in their use of technology, especially new technology. Find it difficult to understand usability issues.
have to get used to loss of control.  Consumerisation and use of social software have meant that we have to be more open, more facilitators of new technology. 

IT staff need to put themselves in the position of a user. 10 mins downtime is nothing to be relaxed about. 

And as someone on our table summed it up, we just need to learn to say yes. 

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Jean Sykes said...

Very interesting blog Chris. Just about every issue you mention is relevant to the situation at LSE and it's heartening to know that we are not alone in the challenges we face.

Good stuff

Anonymous said...

Indeed, very interesting, thank you.

However it does remind me of when I worked in a University department looking after IT. As a small team we considered everything from the perspective of the staff and students, translated service needs into IT solutions (or not!) as appropriate, and generally took what would now be characterised as a business approach.

However, our biggest blocker was from department senior management who viewed us as 'IT'.

Sometimes the blocks to sensible IT-Business conversations are not on the IT side!