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.

Changes at the top of your organisation can happen for a whole multitude of reasons – acquisition or merger, change of government, CEO retirement or even a new board. These changes often require CIOs to build a new relationship even when they’ve been with the organisation for a number of years.

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Conclusion: Whether it be market pressures, skills shortages, budget shortfalls or a combination of these factors, it is important for organisations to imbed a culture of innovation into their businesses; not only to address the many issues facing them today, but also for the inevitable challenges that will arise in the future. There are no hard and fast rules for an innovative organisation. CIOs may be concerned that embarking on innovation activities may be costly, time consuming or a distraction from the more immediate operational needs of the organisation. Conversely, CIOs may be looking for ways to increase morale and build closer relationships with business areas within their organisation.

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Conclusion: When conceiving and designing new services, the primary focus of product managers and technologists is often on functionality, and adequate quality of service is largely assumed as a given. Similarly, from the perspective of a potential user of a new service – the user is mainly concerned about the functional fit of the service, and is prone to making implicit assumptions about quality of service based on brief experimental use of a service. The best service level agreements not only quantify quality of service, they also provide strong incentives for services provider and service users to cooperate and collaborate on continuous improvement.

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Conclusion: Research shows that flexible workplaces result in improved productivity, increased revenue, lower staff attrition and higher staff morale. Numerous surveys indicate that the majority of employers and business managers support flexible workplace arrangements. But is this widespread recognition translated into actively marketing and promoting flexible workplace arrangements to prospective employees? The answer appears to be a resounding NO. In addition, are there specific areas that are experiencing high demand and short supply that benefit from offering flexible workplace arrangements? There are a number of professions that are well suited to flexible workplace arrangements including in demand roles such as business analysts. IT Leaders can utilise flexible workplace arrangements as an incentive when recruiting in demand roles as it can increase the candidate pool.

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Conclusion: Faced with the tough question, ‘How can the organisation reduce its IT costs without compromising client services?’ astute CIOs highlight the impact of the potential reductions by business unit and assist line managers to argue the case for retaining the status quo, to the Executive.

Conversely CIOs who notice the firm’s market share is dropping due to clumsy online ordering systems or excessive customer complaints about online IT services must take the initiative and, with line management, propose an immediate course of action to the Executive to fix the situation, even if it means increasing IT spending. Waiting for line management to act is not an option.

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Conclusion: The attention in which organisations are engaging with social media inevitably leads to a sharper focus on the reputational and legal ramifications of using social media. Organisations have to consider how their staff use social media, the materials published, the statements made on an organisation’s behalf, and possible consequences of the material.

Reviewing and resetting guidelines for employee use of all social media, in particular career sites, is fundamental to how an organisation, its brand name and products are distributed and perceived through social media. New guidelines will set a fairer use policy between employee and organisation, reduce the uncertainties and reduce unforeseen risks.

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Conclusion: One of the most challenging tasks for a CIO is to implement cultural change, or transformation, so it energises people and cements the business relationship with clients and suppliers. Instant success is unlikely. This is because implementing cultural change takes time as relationships have to be nurtured, trust engendered and staff empowered.

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Conclusion: The dimming of IT kudos can be exemplified in a number of ways including: IT not being invited to the table when strategic business decisions are made, then being assigned project work post factum; having IT solutions predetermined by those outside IT, then having to implement them; having phalanxes of IT people brought into the organisation from one of the major systems integration firms to deliver a major project, then subsequently having to support it. Almost without exception the behaviour and performance of the CIO and the IT organisation are the root cause of these events.

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Conclusion: A common mistake when engaging third-parties for ‘Agile software development services’ is to use a contract or procurement approach that is at odds with the tenets of Agile software development. In cases where contract and payment terms follow the more traditional ‘fixed price and scope’ statements of work, organisations do not get true Agile development services, and more likely than not, will be frustrated and dissatisfied with results of the project. Instead, organisations should consider using specific styles of Master Service contracting agreements with Agile developers, or accept that the best than can be achieved will be a hybrid “Watergility” approach by the developers.

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Conclusion: The Australian Institute of Management recognises that leadership and management will need to continue to evolve to keep up with technological innovation and globalisation. Whilst organisations are usually aware of the need to keep up with technological changes, they often struggle with the practical implications for management and impact on organisational structure. On the one hand operational management can increasingly be automated, and on the other hand the ability to build and lead high performance teams is gaining in importance. Having appropriate people in executive team leadership positions is critical.

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Conclusion: The intense focus on social media and related technologies and how it will influence organisations has increased in the last year. Nor will it dim. The catalyst for the change has emanated from four companies and their products which have significantly altered behaviour and interaction with technology – in particular with devices.

Business and IT executives wishing to understand the forces of consumerisation and social media (Social IT) and its impact within organisations need to look at the compound effect brought about by network connections between those four companies and how people connect with them.

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Conclusion: Whether in the private or public sector, the fundamental objective of a board should be “building long-term sustainable growth in shareholder value”1. Usually the intention to do this is expressed in an organisation's strategic plan. Increasingly, IT plays a significant part in these plans, yet many Directors remain shy of anything other than superficial discussions on IT, potentially diminishing IT's contribution to the organisation. Through exertion of appropriate influence and by carefully selecting which channels to use to gain board attention, an effective CIO can take a number of steps to correct this situation.

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Conclusion: One of the initial soft targets of the Executive when costs have to be cut is the IT training budget. Whilst CIOs might put up counter arguments such as potential impact on IT productivity, project delays and reliance on lower skilled staff, the arguments usually fall on deaf ears as most executives regard training as a discretionary expense.

When the cut occurs CIOs have to be creative and find ways to enhance the skills and proficiency of IT professionals and managers, while staying within the amended IT expense budget.

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Conclusion: The challenge of servicing customers well through various channels and over many devices has added considerable complexity to operations. The blindness of monitoring how well the IT operation is working has been removed and now data flows in huge amounts. The principal goal is to provide high quality customer experience and not simply rely on dashboards to churn out machine data reports.

The skills of analysis and insight should be more keenly applied to the data in order to reveal and clarify the value of the data. How the reams of data can be used for an organisation to deliver a high customer experience remains the main task. Organisations that believe that solely monitoring data to support transactions will likely miss the significance of what the data can yield and strengthen their customer contacts.

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Conclusion: Bob Dylan’s enigmatic song ‘Changing of the Guards’ included these lyrics: “But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination. Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards.” This song could well refer to changes in IT that have been gathering force for over a decade. A new order is emerging: progressive CIOs are unseating their regressive counterparts bringing new meaning to IT enablement.

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Conclusion: In the current economic climate with potential scaling back of discretionary investment in IT, and data suggesting a decline in the number of IT skilled staff entering the workforce, CIOs have to weigh up many factors before deciding whether to hire permanent IT staff or engage contractors.

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Unbelievably, Steve Jobs' passing made front page news in virtually every nation on earth. This is probably unprecedented for an 'IT guy' let alone one who dropped out of college before going on to establish Apple with Steve Wozniak in 1976. As most know, after the Jonathan Sculley / Steve Jobs power struggle of late 1985 Steve Jobs resigned from Apple, founding NeXT Computer. Subsequently in 1996, Apple acquired NeXT as sales of the Mac languished, leading ultimately to Jobs assuming the CEO role at Apple after a successful boardroom coup. During Jobs’ sabbatical from Apple he was also the driving force behind Pixar. In August 2011 Apple’s market capitalisation briefly surpassed market leader Exxon Mobil, remaining comfortably ahead of IBM and Microsoft.

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As a consequence of the Internet, and with it, the development of several technologies, and e-commerce (and piracy, too) and now, all things ‘social’ there is an expectation that disruptive innovation is critical to success. More than that: disruptive is the key to success, and without it businesses will die. Survive or die; it’s either/or. The choice is clear.

In the US, as each new social media IPO is a success, the disruptive power of social is proven and now figuratively slapping the faces of tired old enterprise IT. Look at the P/E ratios of Cisco and Microsoft and Google – too low and unexciting because they are not disruptive. They are like remnants of the US steel industry, slowly rusting.

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Conclusion: There is a universality to many aspects of the roles performed by CIOs. Dictated by technology trends and strongly influenced by IT vendors, CIOs often find themselves following a pre-written script containing the initiatives they should pursue. Often they find themselves carrying out exactly the same types of projects as their colleagues in totally different business sectors. For some CIOs, this can be less than satisfying. Worse, despite their complicity (sometimes tacit) in IT initiatives, many senior executives are often underwhelmed by the value delivered by IT. CIOs can take a number of steps to overcome this impasse, achieving more job satisfaction whilst gaining higher profiles in their organisations.

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Conclusion: When it comes to craving what we desire, we’re often our own worst enemies. Sometimes the steps that are taken to achieve an outcome result in the antithesis of the desired effect. Many of the attempts CIOs make to gain CEO attention may be misread, causing the relationship to distance rather than strengthen. However, there are some steps all CIOs can take to properly position IT in the mind of the CEO, building strong CIO/CEO connections and heightening CIO job satisfaction.

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Conclusion: The CIO role is one of the most demanding jobs in an organisation as it involves driving the business to new highs based on an effective IT and business partnership arrangement, so IT can act as a services business. To succeed the CIO needs to articulate a vision that is acted on by business managers who assume the role of informed buyers of IT services

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Conclusion: More than almost any other factor in a CIO’s armoury, having good people within IT is a mainstay of continued success. Building good teams starts with staff selection. While some use search firms for senior roles, most CIOs use traditional recruitment methods: profile the role, advertise it, shortlist candidates, interview them, check references, then appoint. In difficult employment markets it is tempting to make staff selection compromises purely for the sake of filling a vacant role and relieving a stress-point.

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Conclusion: Between the initial enthusiasm of planning a new system, the focused effort of selecting a vendor and negotiating a contract, and the frenetic activity of implementation, nobody wants to think about how to deal with the possibility of a major project failure. While rare, organisations need to put in place contingency plans before they start, preferably during planning and negotiations.

Organisations should establish a framework for dealing with failing systems that gives them the necessary tools to quickly get it back on track or terminate it and seek reparation if appropriate. Without this, organisations risk a long and bitter struggle, which is both costly and embarrassing to themselves and the vendor.

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One of the most valuable IT professionals is the resilient project manager or program director. This is the person who can ‘jump tall buildings in one bound’, ‘walk over hot coals unaided’ and can deliver the solution or issue the tender while meeting OTUB (On Time Under Budget) requirements. (The role is gender neutral). Such is their value that astute CIOs ‘ring-fence’ these managers and stop them being seconded to projects outside their area.

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Conclusion: A new leadership team in a major IT provider such as IBM will mean the potential for change and disruption for customers, partners and staff of IBM. This change may vary from a potential for a shift in strategic direction to more incremental changes as new management seeks to place its stamp on company performance. Just as in your organisation, new leadership at IBM will mean new ideas and processes for both IBM and its clients.

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Conclusion: The generic term “the business” as used by IT people to refer to their stakeholders, is a gross and somewhat dangerous generalisation. Blithely referring to “the business” while making little effort to understand the real needs and priorities of system constituents can leave IT practitioners disconnected from the people they are trying to serve. Organisations have many different facets and characteristics that all seek different qualities from IT solutions. Understanding these differences is an essential requirement to delivering superior IT services and solutions.

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Conclusion: Knowing what it costs to provide IT services is fundamental for sound IT governance and external comparison. Whilst it might be tempting to quote the IT expense budget as the basis for comparison, doing so is naïve. This is because each organisation differs in the way it collects and allocates IT expenses. Without normalising the costs, comparisons could be way off the mark.

Once IT costs have been normalised and adjusted, as described and depicted in the diagram below, comparison is defensible with a) comparable organisations, b) what an external services provider might charge for the same services and c) the average costs for the industry sector as set out in IT industry survey spending reports.

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Conclusion: Many an incoming CIO stumbles between acceptance of an employment offer and the first few months in the job. Often for the CIO it seems that there is so much to do it’s difficult to know where to turn and what to focus on. Coupled with this, the incoming CIO usually has an overwhelming sense of desire to do a good job and achieve recognition.

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Have you ever been at a conference where everyone in the room is a stranger and you just wanted to leave? Have you ever tried to conduct an interview with an applicant who gives only ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ responses to questions and clearly does not want you to enter their world?

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Conclusion: It would be unusual to find a C-level executive who doesn’t have at least a glancing admiration for companies such as Apple, Google, Amazon and Intel1. All are highly successful and all are known for their innovative cultures.

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Conclusion: In the best-selling 1982 publication "In Search of Excellence"1Tom Peters introduced the concept of MBWA or Managing By Wandering Around. His hypothesis, which remains valid today, is that to gain perspective senior executives should periodically distance themselves from usual management activities to see their organisations differently.

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Conclusion: As a CIO enmeshed in day to day activities, it is easy to think myopically of a world bounded only by what is closest to hand: IT clients, staff and suppliers. But to do so can be delusional. Effective CIOs are first and foremost good strategic thinkers constantly focused on delivering better business outcomes. As such, they take the time to survey the world beyond their immediate boundaries, reflecting on and gaining inspiration from the manifold influences that can shape their future plans and indeed over which the CIO may exert affect. Such a world, quite distant from daily routine but subtly connected to it, may be thought of as the CIO’s role as seen from space.

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Conclusion:All contracts eventually terminate, however the reasons for the termination and the way the termination is handled can lead to different outcomes. To minimise the risks associated with contract termination it is essential that the buying organisation gives due consideration to this event while in the early stages of the procurement cycle. Unless the procurement contract is drafted to cover the issues that can arise as a result of termination, the buying organisation can be faced with significant business disruption, financial penalties and potentially even legal action.

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Conclusion: Many CIOs seek to be seen as visionaries in their organisations. Usually bestowed with higher than average intellect and with unique insight into the workings of their organisation and its role within its ecosystem and society, they are well-placed to make a significant contribution toward organisational growth and innovation. Yet curiously, this rarely happens.

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Conclusion: The GFC (Global Financial Crisis) has forced most organisations to reduce their operating costs to stay viable, and have given the task of achieving it, by challenging spending proposals and trimming budgets, to the CFO.

To ensure the right areas of expenditure are targeted CIOs must work with the CFO to not only assess impact of reduced spending but also develop a fallback plan in case IT spending is cut. CIOs who adopt an adversarial approach or are slow to co-operate with the CFO are putting their careers at risk.

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Conclusion: In Australasia in 2009, admittedly in the thrall of the GFC, an unprecedentedly high number of CIOs lost their jobs. A broad spectrum of CIOs were involved: some were high profile industry figures, a few had been promoted from within whilst others with seemingly well-credentialed backgrounds had been in their roles for a matter of months.

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At the conclusion of a course on ‘Selling Ideas’, in which I was an instructor, one of the participants was an Enterprise Architect in a large bank. He stated that he now planned to be a ‘political animal’. His management team when told, and unaware of his identity, were both alarmed and delighted. Alarmed, because he might ‘ruffle a few (of their) feathers’ and delighted, that by being politically active, he might fast track decisions needed to complete projects on time.

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The structure of the IT function will more often than not be influenced by the structure of the organisation it serves. There is no one right way to organise IT within an organisation. Rather there are a variety of models, each with their own benefits and disadvantages. Whatever model is implemented however, it is important to ensure that decisions on the optimum structure for IT are driven by business rather than political imperatives, and that the CIO has significant input.

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While it is commonly accepted that the success of an IT department is very much dependent upon its people, processes and the relationship between IT management, IT staff and their clients, an important relationship which is often overlooked is that between CIOs and the executives to whom they directly report. It is critical to the delivery of an efficient IT service within an organisation that a strong and mutually beneficial relationship is established between the CIO and their manager. CIOs must work continually towards maintaining this relationship.

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Conclusion:The participation rate of IT and Business Professionals in teleworking is growing and has the potential to reduce occupancy costs while increasing productivity. That is, using ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) to support work activities away from the employer's office. Growth in recent years has been triggered by the availability of robust IT infrastructure and an increasingly IT literate workforce.

Despite its upside, surveys1have shown that teleworking, if not effectively managed with boundaries put around its participation, may negatively impact business relationships and lead to work-private life conflicts.

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