Building a Management Team for IS Lite

Building a Management Team for IS Lite

The problem for IS departments of the future is a little more subtle than just being a skills shortage. Instead, as the battle lines over skills are drawn, IT leaders face nasty uncertainties.

IS Lite: this selective outsourcing model allows your staff to spend their time on those things deemed most valuable to the organisation while putting them on a more strategic missionNot too heavy, not too light but just right. With a new IS management team in place with a mandate to act as strategically as possible and to outsource non-core IT activities to appropriate professional service providers, Tarong Energy aspires to be an IS Lite organisation.

The leading Queensland-based energy generator and supplier of energy-related products and services has recently outsourced its IT infrastructure support, redefining the incumbent IS management team's role as largely service- and contract-relationship management.

"Previously the organisation had a highly contracted workforce which, while it progressed certain areas, wasn't necessarily coordinated or consistent in its approach," says information services manager Graham Shann. "Among the things that we get from the outsourcing agreement we have with Tequinox for our IT infrastructure support is consistency, standards, and a highly professional approach. We've also got the benefit of the pooled resource type concept where if person A can't do the work, person B should be able to."

That, along with the 24x7 support it now gets out of the deal, was just what Tarong Energy was looking for in an outsourcing arrangement. However, Shann says an IS Lite organisation demands - more than ever before - staff who combine business and IT management abilities. A customer-service focus, the ability to speak in business terms to business customers, commercial acumen, strong vendor and contract management skills, strategic IS knowledge and the ability not to be bluffed by vendors are vital. Just as important is the ability to understand where the IS market is heading so that where it aligns with Tarong's business plans IS staff can challenge the business units and try to get in there first and add value.

"I believe the team that we've recruited does have these skills so the structure is in place. But I expect it to take between seven and nine months to actually get it to be operational and stable," Shann says.

"IS Lite" is GartnerGroup's name for a new-look IS - a slimmed-down, but high-value-adding variant of conventional IS that is expected to be adopted by the majority of large organisations. An IS Lite organisation subcontracts many conventional IS activities to ESPs or else subsumes them into the business itself. In particular, IS Lite organisations outsource a high proportion of infrastructure activities on the supply side to ESPs, together with some of the activities associated with supporting business change initiatives.

"A good deal of traditional IS work in business change is embedded in the business - as is some IT strategy work," says research director Roger Woolfe. "Some significant activities are retained in IS . . . [that] include strategy-setting, business innovation and supplier and customer management." In pioneering organisations, IS Lite is already a reality, he says, while it will be years before other organisations adopt it.

"But the trend is firmly established: the proportion of the IT workforce employed full-time in dedicated IS units is dropping rapidly as ESPs and business people continue to make inroads. So even if they have yet to adopt IS Lite, most organisations have embarked on a journey that will lead them closer to it," Woolfe says. "Questioning which IS roles to retain is a burning issue."

Nasty Uncertainties

Over the next year or two GartnerGroup predicts the search for the best and the brightest will become a constant and costly battle, a war with no final victor.

However, the problem for IS departments of the future is a little more subtle than just being a skills shortage. Instead, as the battle lines over skills are drawn, IT leaders face nasty uncertainties, Woolfe concludes. That's not only because it's unclear which organisational roles will need to be retained in-house but also because even when the roles are identified, there's plenty of room for debate about the corresponding staff capabilities. Debating those competencies is exactly how numbers of Australian CIOs spent the holiday period, according to Alan Hansell, GartnerGroup program director, IT Executive Program Asia Pacific.

Hansell says the many organisations that have realised how many tasks can be better done outside the organisation now face the challenge of equipping those people who remain internally to become informed buyers and to learn to act like customers. "Managers have to help their people make that transition very quickly," Hansell says. "They also have to work out a different structure from the one they had when they were a total supplier."

While the concept of strategic sourcing got many Australian organisations going with IS Lite, Hansell says, it's only now the idea of competencies and of sitting back and thinking through the competencies is germinating. A competency is a set of characteristics that causes and even predicts effective performance in a job.

"A number of [Australian CIOs] told me they planned to spend between Christmas and New Year in effect doing an inventory of their situation. You'll find a number of them are [now] saying: Â'Ah yes, I've found I've got big gaps here and there, my capability is not what I thought'," he says.

Filling the gaps will be a significant challenge for many organisations, Hansell claims, and for the individuals expected to fill the roles. Take the example of an architect looking to work in an IS Lite organisation. "If the organisation takes on someone like an architect, they've got to appreciate that the architect won't have the opportunity to dig into the technology and get their fingers dirty but will be at a somewhat arm's length relationship with the technology."

Some architects - the ones who learn by doing - find that unsettling, Hansell says. Those architects will have to accept that the future demands that they learn by observing and reading and assessing what's happening.

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