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Business vs IT: Resolving the Education Gap - Part II

Business vs IT: Resolving the Education Gap - Part II

The ability to effectively manage the IT function will play a greater role in organisations in the future. Success will hinge on change through education.

First, as discussed last month, the IT group needs to significantly increase its business understanding and awareness. Then the organisation can move on to the second area of change: the direct management of IT.

Many organisations have IT report to a non-IT manager - frequently the finance and administration manager as a legacy of IT's role in automating those areas.

These managers "inherit" the portfolio and are not trained in, or lack sufficient experience with, IT management. Also, in many cases, past tensions between users and IT may limit their ability to influence and control IT across the organisation.

Non-IT executives with IT management responsibilities may not have the skill sets required to maximise the business value potential of IT. As a result, the organisation suffers because: * The overall business planning and control cycle may not have sufficient input from IT* The IT budgeting/funding/cost allocation mechanisms may not appropriately allocate IT initiative to business value creation opportunities* Morale and human resource management issues may be adversely impacted on both the user and IT sides of the businessProviding tailored education - built around the events of the business calendar and current initiatives - is the best way to improve skills. Once the skills of non-IT executives with IT management responsi-bilities are assessed, the education program focuses on an active development process. There are a number of different techniques and approaches available. The challenge is to develop a program which incorporates those measures that are appropriate to the management style of the individual organisation.

The third area of change entails educating those responsible for establishing the business direction and processes of an organisation -senior management.

This requires:

* Management processes that incorporate IT awareness* Executives with skills to reshape the business by identifying and actioning opportunities for change through IT* Executives fulfilling an active role in the IT investment process. Again, an assessment is needed, but it should be made on the ability to effectively use IT for business advantage rather than the specifics of IT. Typical gaps include:* Inability to understand where IT may be of assistance in achieving business objectives* Inability to gather or understand supporting data* Inability to assess the feasibility of IT projects* Inability to understand how IT may change the current business environment* Inability to assess whether value for money has been achieved Development plans should be tailored to meet different capabilities and needs and agreed to by the respective managers. Ideally, specific actions should be tied to the manager's work calendar, supported by education on industry trends, best practices, IT trends and IT management principles.

The reinforcement of educational needs through real issues should raise the long-term effectiveness of the education. How decisions were reached should be reviewed during the program so that any improvements can be clearly identified and reinforced.

Ideally, such an initiative would be championed by the chief executive of the organisation, as it represents both a major change to past organisational history as well as the mechanism for superior business performance in the future. However, this support may not occur as often or as vigorously as we might hope. In those cases, IT should lead, working with a few key operational executives to implement such a program. IT must clearly demonstrate the benefit available and competitive necessity of participating in such a program.

Finally, one should always keep in mind that such education programs should be used to enhance the organisation's human resource assets rather than as an evaluation mechanism.

Stuart Black is a principal with A T Kearney (c) 1997, COMPUTERWORLD

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