Leadership & People

Positive change starts from the top. Great leadership drives teams to succeed, defines a positive culture and inspires the leaders of tomorrow. 

Much is written about what makes a good leader, and no one recipe or formula exists. The challenges facing our current and upcoming leaders vary wildly.

How teams thrive while dealing with internal politics, external ideas and failure are complex challenges every leader must learn to manage. You don’t have to do it alone.

IBRS is comprised of many ex-CIOs with a wealth of knowledge that can provide mentoring and advice to current and aspiring leaders. Our career development, networking and thought leadership resources help leaders solve problems and create workplace cultures geared towards success and satisfaction.

Conclusion:

Due to the scarcity of skilled ICT professionals and managers, organisations will inevitably seek extra capacity from augmented services providers to address the shortfall. Staff conducting due diligence to find the best provider and qualify the providers must be unafraid to ask difficult questions, business savvy and, when dealing with providers, able to separate the wheat from the chaff. Identifying providers with the capacity and ability to deliver the desired outcomes and are a good fit is not an easy task.

If the staff find that no provider can deliver what is required, stakeholders must either:

  • Wait for internal staff to become available, or
  • Hire and train staff which can be an expensive, time-consuming exercise that may increase business risks.

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Conclusion

At 21.7 per cent, staff attrition within the Australian Information Technology (IT) sector is unsustainably high. Staff recognition can be defined as the action or process of recognising employees for the work completed through words and gratitude1. Over the past five years, globally, organisations have increased their focus and investment on employee reward and recognition.

However, despite this increased focus, research shows that recognition is not occurring as often as it should be, as only 61 per cent of employees feel appreciated in the workplace1. Research also shows that even when recognition is provided for employees, it is not executed well or enacted correctly 1/3 of the time.

Organisational development and human resource studies demonstrate that reward and recognition programs commonly do not resonate or hit the mark for employees, if they are: not authentic and sincere2, only provided in a single context, or are based on award criteria that is overly complex or unattainable3.

This paper covers how leaders and organisations can recognise and then subsequently avoid these three common pitfalls, to maximise the investment into employee reward and recognition programs and efforts.

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Conclusion

Major increases in demand for ICT and business professional employment in the year 2020 have been reported, despite the economic downturn. These increases are important to note as they signal a post-pandemic increase in ICT investment in the year 2021 and in future years to support enhanced business systems and demand (user) computing.

To complicate matters a survey of Australian CIOs indicated that it will be more challenging to find qualified technology employees in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic market conditions. Unless recruitment programs are well thought out, the inability to recruit the right people will stifle plans to take advantage of ICT growth opportunities in 2021.

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Conclusion

DevOps, business intelligence (BI) and data, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) are all driving rapid change within IT departments. The challenge will be finding Cloud certified people to meet the rising demand.

Leaders have two main choices. Upskill their existing teams, or embark on a recruitment campaign that brings in Cloud certified professionals to manage Cloud migration and provide the ongoing support and optimisation needed to bring the full value of Cloud to IT operations.

For organisations who suddenly realise how far they are behind on the Cloud value curve, pressure will mount to deliver results quickly. Make sure staff are certified and ready to address your hybrid or multi-Cloud environments.

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Conclusion:

Involving end-users in the software development cycle isn’t a new concept, yet reportedly, 78 per cent of IT project professionals believe business stakeholders need to be more involved in and engaged with the requirements process1. Commonly, software development project managers report problems with end-users’ ability to learn and use the new system and/or the end-users’ perceived quality of system functionality. While usability testing is meant to be a safeguard for system ease-of-use, user acceptance testing is designed to be a safeguard for the development of quality functionality. Both play a different role in the software development lifecycle.

This paper covers the differences between usability testing with end-users and user acceptance testing, also conducted with end-users and why both are equally important for the software development success.

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The Latest

18 February 2021: The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Labour Force report highlighted major increases in employment for ICT and business professionals.

Net increases of note in the period were:

ICT professionals 

  • programmers (14%)
  • network professionals (16%)
  • web designers (16%)
  • database administrators (23%)

Business professionals

  • accountants (14%) 
  • information / organisational professionals (27%).

Who’s impacted

  • CIOs
  • Sourcing Teams
  • Human Resources

What’s Next?

These increases are consistent with forecasts that found ICT spending would increase in 2021 to
secure growth opportunities and support remote staff.

Employment increases of the scale above inevitably trigger investment in new systems that need
innovative software solutions, hardware, and specialised ICT services, all of which open the door for
market-ready vendors to promote their offerings.

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. ICT Trends 2021-2021: No new normal and the fourth wave of ICT
  2. IBRSiQ: Can IBRS help in an understanding of where Australian companies are in relation to spend vs revenue? 
  3. Why benchmarking IT costs and staffing is important

Conclusion:

Fear of missing out (FOMO) drives information and communication technology (ICT) leaders to look at new ICT applications with the promise of greater benefits. Many organisations then fail to maximise the value of their existing applications and Power BI is no exception. Hidden under a Microsoft enterprise agreement, organisations and staff are often unaware of Power BIs full capabilities.

Excel still remains a default position for most data analytics. The main reason is familiarity and flexibility to construct, but it has limited access to data warehouses making it less efficient as a business intelligence (BI) tool. Complex problems require multiple spreadsheets to capture and analyse data from multiple sources. Changes are often tedious and time-consuming.

To generate meaningful business insights, ICT leaders need to initiate the use cases and upskill staff with BI tools such as Power BI which are capable of agility and real-time value add.

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Conclusion:

COVID-19 has presented a number of challenges for business and the underlying Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in particular. These challenges have presented both as crisis and opportunity but all have been compelling events. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’. In each case, this will only be possible when the lessons learned are properly investigated and documented, allowing evidence-based decisions to ensure organisations improve the way business is done.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many changes to the way business is done, how employees contribute, and how customers interact. Taking the time to evaluate performance, document the lessons learned, and to improve your business decision processes is invaluable. Applying the technical and business lessons learned from the period of this pandemic will add value for many years to come. It will allow your organisation to reinforce successes, avoid possible errors, and potentially improve its position in the marketplace.

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Conclusion:

Australian organisations in both public and private sectors enthusiastically identify and implement best practices from around the world. After considerable time and effort has been allocated to implementing these processes and the associated tools the results are all too often less than satisfactory. There are many best practices, frameworks and tools to assist in the optimisation of IT but there are two key problems areas that if overcome, can make a significant difference in the benefits that organisations will derive from best practice implementation.

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The Latest

27 January 2020: Sitecore, which offers a web content management and online customer experience platform, announced a US$1.2 billion investment plan to grow its global footprint. 

Why it’s Important

In the market for online customer experience, Sitecore is the key rival to Adobe. While Sitecore does not provide the breadth of digital design services that Adobe offers, its web content and digital marketing capabilities are competitive. This US$1.2 billion investment plan signals Sitecore’s desire to take advantage of the increased demand for digital service delivery in the wake of the pandemic. 

Sitecore’s offering is price-competitive against Adobe, though still at the high-end of the market. However, it does need to boost its support network and partners if it wishes to encroach on Adobe, while also defending against mid-tier players and modern CRMs such as Salesforce and Netsuite ecommerce and customer service offerings. 

Who’s impacted

  • CMO
  • Sales / Marketing teams

What’s Next?

While Sitecore is well-known in Australia and the Asia Pacific / Japan region, strengthening its implementation partners and support network will go a long way to positioning it against Adobe. IBRS has noted that some Australian Sitecore clients have expressed frustration with the availability of local Sitecore skills and sought US-based contractors to fill the gaps. Investment in building an international footprint may help alleviate local skills shortages.

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. CRM modernisation Part 1: Strategy, planning & selection
  2. CRM modernisation Part 2B: Creating a customer experience strategy
  3. Positive customer experiences must lead digital transformation

The Latest 

19 January 2021: Salesforce has added a customer loyalty management module to its Customer 365 Platform. The new module allows organisations to define and deploy programs for incentives and rewards, linked to customer data held within the core Salesforce and customer experience platform.

Why it’s Important

During the pandemic and related lockdowns, digital service delivery has surged. More significantly, as consumers adopted more online service delivery, they also tried out new brands. McKinsey estimates that 80% of US consumers stuck with their new channels, with digital customer loyalty programs being a significant force in this trend.  

Who’s impacted

  • CMO
  • Sales executives
  • E-commerce teams

What’s Next?

While data for Australian consumers' adoption of digital channels and digital loyalty programs is not readily available, anecdotal evidence from discussions with IBRS clients and from well established online retailers such as Kogan and Woolworths, suggests Australia has also seen a similar pattern to that of North America, though perhaps not as pronounced.  

Loyalty programs will likely become a key differentiating factor for brands to maintain repeat business as more (niche) Australian retailers take up digital channels to meet their client demands. Organisations should begin to explore how digital loyalty programs can:

  • drive repeat and regular online engagement 
  • build brand awareness and affiliation, and 
  • increase life-time-value measures.

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. CRM modernisation Part 1: Strategy, planning & selection
  2. CRM modernisation Part 2B: Creating a customer experience strategy
  3. Positive customer experiences must lead digital transformation

Conclusion: Organisations that laid off IT and business professionals during the pandemic due to cost pressures will find it challenging post-pandemic to reset IT services needed to meet client service requirements and those of much leaner organisations.

With many employees working remotely, organisations will need to enhance their cyber security skills while providing secure services in a price-sensitive and cost-constrained environment in which many clients will also be struggling financially.

Vendors will also find it difficult to grow a client’s technology base post-pandemic due to their clients being short of capital, which will frustrate both parties, and once the solution is justified fewer skilled staff (than pre-pandemic if lay-offs occurred) will be available to implement them.

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Conclusion: Employees who feel their voices are heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work, and 96 % of employees believe showing empathy is an important way to advance employee retention1. Many organisations understand the importance of employee engagement, yet many organisations also do not develop and deliver successful staff engagement plans or activities2.

Many published strategies centre on the aspirational and critical elements of vision, leadership and growth3. This paper focuses on three practical steps that organisations can implement easily, to help tangibly begin the journey to turn employee engagement results into informed, believable and actionable plans.

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Conclusion: As organisations strive to enhance customer experience, complemented by marketing and sales activities, success will be contingent on IT and business professionals using data literacy skills and being able to implement systems that make it easy to do business with them and understand their buying patterns.

Unless IT and business professionals acquire the data literacy skills needed, and make the right data available, efforts to better engage with customers and prospects will fail to achieve expectations and opportunities will be wasted.

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Conclusion: Many organisations are engaged in implementing digital transformation programs to provide enhanced customer services, e. g. with new products or to reduce operating costs, or both. Unfortunately, many programs fail, sometimes repeatedly, until they achieve their set objectives. What is important though is when failure occurs, use the lessons learned to try again.

Delivering a transformed organisation is hard as it is inevitably accompanied by:

  • Redesigning business processes to meet today’s business imperatives
  • Implementing enhanced information systems
  • Encouraging employees to acquire new skills and be innovative
  • Actively minimising the business risks

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Conclusion: Estimating the workdays for an agile- or waterfall-based IT project is not a simple task. However, with effort and a disciplined people-focused approach, it can be turned from an art into, as close as possible, a science.

When the effort is made, management will become more comfortable with the resources needed to complete projects and avoid the unpleasant task of asking for more resources than expected due to flawed estimating.

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Conclusion: Due to the pandemic and economic decline, politically astute IT managers will need all their selling skills to get one-off IT infrastructure proposals approved. Not only is this due to a decline in earned revenue or grants, but also because procurement involves paying cash to vendors.

IT managers may need to ‘walk the talk’ to convince decision makers to support IT infrastructure investment proposals. In an environment where demand exceeds supply, and competition for scarce resources is high, the need to sell the proposal is probably an organisational political necessity.

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Conclusion: Working remotely has become the default option for most companies in the new normal setup. Although this has led to rising demand in technological tools and IT systems, it is unlikely the tech industry will be spared widespread job cuts – already such cuts are being seen in some industry sectors. With the world bracing for recession, companies are cutting down on costs and tightening budgets wherever they can.

Understandably, the current state of job insecurity is creating anxiety in employees who have retained their jobs. IT staff are justifiably feeling insecure and this is likely to affect some employees’ work performance. Such anxiety is a major issue that needs to be recognised and addressed quickly and effectively in order to enable the company to maximise its existing resources both during the economic downturn and as it starts to grow again.

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IBRS advisor Dr. Joseph Sweeney discusses why it falls to individuals to look at improving their work in a post-COVID world. Dr. Sweeney comments on the need to build a culture of innovation that empowers employees to understand where improvement is needed in their job.

Full Story.

Conclusion: To prepare for the inevitable questioning by senior management of whether an expense line item can be reduced, management must review its breakdown and be prepared to justify it to senior management when asked. Responses must highlight the business risks that will ensue should a selected expense line item in the ICT opex (operating) and capex (capital) expense budgets be reduced. Failing to frame the response in business (risks) terms could delay the review and reflect poorly on ICT management.

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Conclusion: Since the rise of personal computing in the 1970s, organisations have focused on acquiring digital tools and, since the late 1990s, on promoting digital skills. While we are now in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, where digital skills are essential, the so-called soft skills of employees also need to be constantly updated and upgraded.

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Conclusion: Scenario planning is a formal approach for developing and exploring possible future situations or marketplace environments. It allows organisations to be more flexible and agile by considering the possibilities for change. It helps organisations – and for the focus of this paper, the ICT teams – identify the environmental uncertainties and allows ICT to prepare proactively instead of reactively.

ICT executives should leverage scenario planning activities to help with post-pandemic planning, preparing advice for the board with the organisation’s readiness to react to possible changes in the market, and also as a morale and team-building activity.

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Conclusion: Creating an environment in which IT and business professionals can adapt to a new and remote (also known as alternate work) environment will test the ingenuity of many senior managers.

To meet the challenge, managers must help their staff avoid being anxious and isolated and enable them to easily access their peers for advice and guidance. Failure to keep contact could lead to a decline in productivity and staff not feeling part of the team. Alternately, not having to travel to work sites and work prescribed hours can be a blessing for others.

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Conclusion: Organisations should tap into their management team (department heads, managers and team leaders) to keep their working-from-home employees committed to the organisation. These organisational leaders have the most direct relationships and therefore are the most qualified to invite engagement from employees and other stakeholders. However, new models for engaging and measuring employees are needed that reflect the shift to virtual teams and virtual management: there is a shift from managing by activity to managing by trust.

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Conclusion: The COVID-19 pandemic crisis is sweeping across the globe and is being felt by every individual and every organisation. By its very nature, the COVID-19 crisis is global in scope, indefinite in its duration and unknown in its long-term impact. Given the reliance of organisations on their ICT services, particularly at this point in time, CIOs have a unique opportunity to make a significant contribution, showcase their leadership capability and enhance the long-term brand of their ICT teams. All too often under the pressure of a crisis, CIOs will focus on tasks as opposed to the softer elements of leadership. The opportunities this crisis presents should not be wasted. Your leadership is on show.

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Conclusion: When cost cutting of IT services is on the executive agenda, due to the impact of COVID-19 virus, will it yield low hanging or sour fruit? One area often regarded as low hanging fruit is the amalgamation of SPOC (single point of contact) activities, viz. help desk, service centre and contact or call centre. Combining them is a compelling proposition and demands an informed response.

Put simply, the logic used by management, seeking to amalgamate and reduce costs, is:

  • Similar skills are required so staff can be co-located
  • Staff can become multi-skilled and resolve incidents or software failures of internal (service desk and help desk) and external clients
  • Office space used now will be reduced and by combining the functions
  • Headcount savings will ensue

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Conclusion: Organisations will typically have employees of different cultural backgrounds. As teams expand and organisations become more global, managers may find themselves managing whole teams based in countries other than their own. A lot of the time, management will by necessity have to be done remotely.

Managers need to be very aware that management cultural diversity needs to be considered, especially in areas such as communication, decision making, coaching, support and dealing with any issues or conflicts. Trust is a key element of successful manager/employee engagement and is critical when managing remote teams who may have significant management cultural differences.

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Conclusion: While there is no perfect approach to restructuring an IT services department, there are fundamental principles (set out below) that must be followed, to get it right first time. If these principles are not followed, staff resistance to the changes proposed could impact staff morale.

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Conclusion: There are many benefits in taking a break during the holidays that go beyond just recharging the batteries. However, along with the seemingly obvious benefits, there are also some traps for the unwary. On the flip side, there are some benefits to working in the office during the quieter periods, so take time to prepare and plan for the holiday period: develop sound strategies for all staff and above all, be authentic with setting expectations.

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Conclusion: A recent Harvard business review article1 reinforced the view that meetings have increased in length and frequency over time from 20 % to nearly 50 % of the working week. This time does not include the planning, reading and preparation of those meeting. Executives such as CIOs or similar should spend some time assessing how effective meetings are in their organisation to return the valuable commodity of time to all and reap the benefits.

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Conclusion: Hiring is costly, time-consuming and fraught with risk. Hiring decisions can impact organisations in either positive or negative ways. A critical step in the hiring process is onboarding. First impressions matter and new hires need to be made to feel welcome, engaged and enabled to ensure they can settle in quickly and are able to start contributing as quickly as possible.

Given that a critical issue in Australia is the availability of highly-sought-after IT skills1, it is particularly important that organisations can attract and retain the IT skills needed to support the business. Of course, successful onboarding is important in all aspects of an organisation.

Onboarding should be a clearly defined process with a checklist of exactly what should be done, and what should be repeated for every new hire. The process starts before the employee’s first day and extends to a period after the employee’s first day, possibly up to six or even 12 months.

Successful onboarding is not just HR’s responsibility but the responsibility of every hiring manager or supervisor, and their colleagues. And success will be judged by the employees in how well the process made them feel welcomed, helped them understand their role and engaged them, and contributed to their productivity. Lower turnover rates should also be a goal of improving onboarding.

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Conclusion: Taking the guesswork out of capacity planning by making an informed forecast of demand for computing and support resources for the strategic capacity plan is an ongoing challenge for IT professionals and managers. Reputational damage can ensue when resources are either under or overestimated and there are claims that guesswork was employed.

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Conclusion: Analysts in general are correct to identify the challenges in the industry to develop appropriate skills, meet the demands of digitisation and to counter the security threats. When it is distilled down it is all about the business. The CIO is supporting business outcomes which will need specific technology solutions, which will, in turn, drive ICT strategy. The key to success is defined by how the CIO drives the outcome. The CIO, therefore, must possess soft skills as well as technical knowledge to deliver success.

The key to success for CIOs is mastering four soft skills that allow them to achieve control of the ICT environment. Effective control will allow the CIO to deliver exemplary services in support of business today, whilst gaining support from the executive for the ICT strategy to meet the demands of tomorrow. Sounds simple but as experience has found, it is easier said than done.

The secret lies with good networking within the executive and key stakeholders, situational awareness of the ICT environment, the ability to effectively delegate with clear direction of what is to be achieved, and a communications strategy which allows for engagement by all stakeholders and escalation of issues through both technical and management channels without fear or favour.

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Conclusion: Successfully hiring new employees can bring lots of benefits to an organisation – improved productivity, employee morale or business outcomes, to name just a few. Equally, poor hiring decisions can be extremely costly to an organisation. Having to dismiss someone who was recently hired but proves to not be a good fit for the role can impact the organisation in many ways, and usually at a higher cost than the direct costs associated with the actual recruitment process.

HR tech is a rapidly growing field of software solutions that are designed to help improve the recruitment process, with the ultimate goal of helping organisations improve their hiring outcomes.

Organisations wishing to improve their hiring effectiveness or efficiency should consider the emerging new recruiting solutions and how they may help address any identified problem areas in their current recruitment efforts. But caution needs to be taken, especially for artificial intelligence (AI) solutions that may be built on historical data that results in bias, for example giving preference to particular genders.

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Conclusion: In an age-diverse workforce, it is important that IT managers and professionals understand the different expectations and management styles of stakeholders and accommodate them to gain their support for IT-related initiatives being proposed.

Without understanding the management styles and expectations of age-diverse stakeholders, a level of disconnect may occur and business relationships could slip from being of mutual benefit to transactional and ineffective.

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Conclusion: The apocryphal ‘three envelopes’ story about the executive starting a new role is a cynical view of leadership transition. However, at its core, there are some uncomfortable truths about how people respond to crises early in their leadership. Digging deeper, there are lessons to be learned from these scenarios, suggesting more productive ways to deal with these issues as they arise.

It is critical for transitioning digital leaders to understand that people, culture and politics are the most powerful forces in an organisation. An ability to manage change and form collaborative relationships is a much stronger predictor of success in a digital transformation role than any digital or technical experience.

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Conclusion: Business ethics is not a new topic. It is as old as business itself and many of the issues and questions posed during ethical considerations are just as old. Digital ethics takes a fresh look at many of these issues from a new perspective, that of a technology-enabled society and the business community. Digital capabilities introduce new complexities and challenges to the business environment. Many ethical issues arising from technology advancements cannot be solved simply. However, without addressing these matters, the business community puts itself, its customers and the community at risk. Viewing ethical issues with a technology focus and adherence to ethical principles can mitigate some of these risks.

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Conclusion: Relationships at work between managers and employees are important and can influence the success and effectiveness of individual teams or whole organisations. Both managers and employees need to understand the bias that can occur between a view a manager may take about an employee they have invested in and ‘hired’ or selected, versus an employee that is thrust upon them or that they inherit from another manager; for example, employees that join an organisation as the result of an acquisition.

When managers are ‘invested’ in the selection of employees, a relationship exists that reflects on the managers’ judgement and decision-making skills, having believed that they have made good hiring decisions. No such relationship exists when the managers have no involvement in the selection of the employees but are assigned to managing the employees.

The more that managers understand this, the better they can focus on avoiding viewing employees differently. The more that employees understand this, the better they can recognise potential issues, and work to improve their career prospects by ensuring they work for a manager that has ‘chosen’ them, or at least learnt to understand their abilities and contributions.

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Conclusion: The IT skills shortage is likely to worsen. In addition to technical skills, technology leaders and workers overwhelmingly recognise the value of creativity in the workplace, yet they lament their inability to effectively cultivate creativity. Creativity can unlock innovation in the enterprise, generate high levels of employee satisfaction, and make a significant contribution to corporate profit margins as well as national economies.

Creativity can be taught and strengthened, in individuals and in teams. Studies in neuroplasticity are demystifying the biology behind training the brain, demonstrating that even ‘set in their ways’ workers can improve their creativity – and productivity – using relatively simple techniques. Neuroscience is showing that we can still teach an old dog new tricks.

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Conclusion: Successful businesses need their people to be productive and to perform well. Effective communication may assist i.e.suring they do. Effective communication is about thought leadership, defining a purpose, informing tasking and priorities and, most importantly, listening. Opportunities that impact productivity and the fiscal performance of organisations are often lost or not fully prosecuted due to poor communication. Poor communication will result in less than optimal planning or reduced time to react, causing the need to compromise. This, in turn, results in poor prioritisation, and i.e.erything is urgent, nothing gets the appropriate focus.

To communicate effectively at the personal, work unit and organisational levels requires a level of discipline in adherence to the basic principles of effective communication, which will lay the foundation for success.

Effective communication will improve productivity, reduce risk, reduce costs and reduce time to market. Effective communication will deliver line of sight for your strategic outcomes and in doing so will be a combat multiplier for your business.

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