Today's CIOs are moving IT away from its traditional back office role, towards becoming a central part of the business. But to integrate IT departments into the organisation requires a fundamental change in the culture of the organisation.
To do this strong communications skills are needed to ensure clear communication between IT and the business. The CIOs present at a recent business event explained that IT is now leading innovative business ideas and that developing a common language is required.
Richard Steel is CIO of London local authority Newham. The council will be in the spotlight for the next four years as it is involved in the London Olympics in 2012.
"We have got to the point where IT is finally as reliable as the electric light, but I don't think the infrastructure that we have put in place is really exploited as well as it could be. In most organisations there is a great deal more that can be done with shared services. To assist that, a lot has to be done with data accuracy and an understanding of the benefits of that IT can deliver," he said of the joint responsibilities that IT and business members share. "That is where jobs like mine come in and it is our job to ensure buy-in from throughout the organisation.
"Change is the constant that we now have and I don't think anyone in IT management can tell you what is going to be the flavour of the day in five, 10 or 14 years time. As a result, a strategy is constantly changing and we have to adapt," he said of how IT has changed the workplace and its workers. "What drives a business forward is competition and everybody has to keep up with innovations or be left behind. Therefore jobs are changing, roles are being invented; others are being dropped or changed. In some ways it is more than change; it is churn."
Communicating the benefits of IT, faced with a workforce that is constantly having to change, is one of the challenges facing a CIO. Steel said it's a challenge when dealing both with the workforce, and senior levels. "You do still get some executives who wear their ignorance as a badge of honour, which is a real problem for IT. What must be made clear is that the 'I' in IT is for information; information is a requirement that no organisation can prosper without and it has to be managed effectively." The managing information effectively requires different messages to different age groups, according to Steel, "Younger people are brought up on IT and take to technology like ducks to water, that doesn't mean they see the application in a business sense, which has to be articulated to them.
"Equally, some jump in at the business level without understanding the IT basics, to use IT effectively you have to understand the IT basics."
Steel believes that poor communication is not purely the reserve of the IT department. "Individual services within a business have a good understanding of the department's goals and what they can achieve, but what they don't understand is what other departments can offer to really add value to that service. There is too much compartmenatilism."
To create a common language, Steel advises, "Don't talk in acronyms. I am constantly annoyed by people who use them and it is not just in IT."
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