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Technically Challenged

Technically Challenged

Dilbert isn't the only one out there with a boss who doesn't get it. The value that IT can deliver to a company continues to be misunderstood by business leaders who are . . . Technically Challenged.

He is the EXECUTIVUS OBSOLETUS - the dark-suited manager of IBM TV commercial fame who finds himself on exhibit in a museum alongside dinosaurs and woolly mammoths because he simply cannot or will not keep up with technology.

Stripped of that metaphor, he is the older executive so used to relying on his secretary to handle what used to be paper tasks that he cannot save a file or open a spreadsheet without help. He is sufficiently embarrassed about his lack of IT literacy that he has become an expert at hiding it. Yet he is also the decision-maker pushing the IT developments or holding the keys to the cashbox for the IT projects on which his business will ultimately depend.

While his species' numbers are steadily diminishing, executivus obsoletus is nowhere near becoming extinct. And there is something about him that captures the public imagination, at least in the business and IT communities, because when New York-based Jennifer Shaheen issued a press release last year about all those senior executives perched atop the corporate ladder without knowing their apps from their elbows, the story ran with only slight variations on TV and in papers and magazines across the US.

Certainly the story's slightly raunchy tone was guaranteed to catch an editor's eye. The version issued by Associated Press, which varied only slightly from those running elsewhere across the US, began: "She often meets her powerful clients on nights and on weekends, when no one is around. Some of them insist she call only on their mobile phones, fearing the loose lips of secretaries. Yet there is nothing unsavoury about Jennifer Shaheen's line of work.

"Shaheen, 32, is a computer tutor to corporate big shots, giving pointers in the fine arts of opening e-mail attachments, navigating Excel spreadsheets and performing other PC chores the executives' minions probably can do in their sleep."

However, behind the story's clever tone and innuendo, say Australian observers, lies a disturbing reality.

"We've taught and coached executives and managers, sometimes in their homes, on how to do certain IT tasks related to their personal IT use," says Christopher Hire, senior consultant for Sydney-based consultancy Simple. "Their understanding of IT is typically poor unless they're under 50, but a lot of the executives are getting towards the upper end of that bracket: late 40s to 60, let's say. A lot of them, we've found, don't understand what they're doing. They can't do IT when they're away on the road. They can't work on their files offline. When they're not connected to the network, there's not a great awareness of the features of the products they could be using."

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