The importance of being versatile

5 Jan 2006

The days of the typical IT manager are numbered, it’s official. You know the guys you only talk to when you forget a password or the printer doesn’t work. Chances are he or she could be sitting across the table at board meetings or talking sales strategy in the months and years to come.

The research firm Gartner predicts that by 2010, six out of 10 IT professionals will assume business-facing roles and also by 2010 IT departments in mid-size and large companies will be 30pc smaller than they are in 2005.

Going forward, Gartner says that successful IT professionals will identify themselves not just by occupation but by the industry, process and change programmes in which they participate. IT professionals must also prove that they understand the realities of the business, such as industry, core processes, customer bases, regulatory environment, culture and constraints.

Attending a recent chief information officer (CIO) forum in Dublin was Jeffrey Mann, research vice-president at Gartner, who explained this sea change in the life of the IT professional: “When most business executives think about IT, it’s usually when they forget a password or the printer breaks. If the role of an IT professional in an enterprise is purely reactive in terms of fixing things when they break, that’s bad. The IT professional going forward will have to be something of a ‘versatilist’; a person that understands the technology but will also be able to understand financial models and operational issues. Someone who may be based on the IT side but also addresses core competencies such as ‘How do we make money?'”

Also attending the forum was Robert Ford, regional CIO at Microsoft and the man responsible for deploying Microsoft’s products such as the next iteration of Office 12 across Microsoft’s 80,000 workforce — he calls it ‘dogfooding’ — years before they are released to the public. He is also responsible for the smooth running of all of Microsoft’s IT around the world, basically everywhere outside the Redmond campus.

Having met with Irish CIOs, Ford said their agenda is no different to their counterparts the world over. “There are five key concerns of CIOs today: hiring the right people (it’s now more critical than ever), having clear priorities for the business, demonstrating value to shareholders, empowering and making workers more productive, and mitigating risk — you would be surprised to hear that CIOs are actually very comfortable with compliancy rules such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, 2002.”

Responding to Mann’s argument that IT managers and workers need to become more versatile and relevant to the core business, Ford said: “IT workers need to make a conscious decision to be at the CXO table and to do that they need to understand their value to the organisation. At Microsoft four years ago we took the old IT manager model and dismantled it and created IT account managers or business relationship managers. Some 50pc of their job was to run IT, the other 50pc was to make IT relevant to the business overall. What resulted was a partnership relationship.

“For the CIO model, we consciously removed the role from under finance and instead made the CIO part of the sales and support organisation. Our value is in dogfooding our products to help our sales forces sell a good-quality product and being more educated in the process. This has made our CIO office exceptionally influential.

“CIOs should be encouraged to work out their value to the organisation and then play to that strength,” Ford concluded.

By John Kennedy

Pictured above: Jeffrey Mann, research vice-president at Gartner, with Robert Ford, Microsoft regional CIO