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: The war for talented IT professionals and managers is ongoing. To attract and keep talented people, senior IT and HR managers must continually ask whether their job-hiring and staff retention strategies are working. If the strategies do not create a flexible working environment with access to new technologies to meet the aspirations of talented people they risk losing their organisation’s competitive advantage.

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Conclusion: The concept of innovation has been gaining wider acceptance in the past few years, particularly in line with the explosion of the Internet and social media. However, many organisations are still following the model that new ideas will be generated by the clever people within the organisation or will come from those external partners that are already known to the organisation. This outdated model does not provide the opportunity for organisations to identify great ideas that could provide significant benefit to their organisation. There is growing adoption of a broader based innovation method known as ‘Open Innovation’ that offers considerable benefit to organisations that embrace it.

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Conclusion: Senior IT managers will in future look back on 2013 as the year their priorities changed from applying new technologies to enhancing client services in order to enable the organisation to achieve its business objectives. Put simply business management, which was paying the piper, decided it was time to change the tune.

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Conclusion: Assuming surveys indicating global IT spending is declining hold true in Australian and New Zealand, CIOs are in for a tough time in the next budget cycle. To arrest the decline CIOs have to go on the front foot and highlight the business benefits IT has helped secure and explain why each one is at risk if the IT budget is reduced.

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I was surprised when a CIO that had engaged an external services provider told me the firm was not delivering the project management services it had contracted to provide. I had earlier conducted due diligence on the provider and been impressed with its track record. The CIO stated the provider had not assigned an activist project manager and problems were not identified in advance and solved. The client subsequently terminated the contract.

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With financial and economic commentators warning of difficulttimes ahead, CIOs must be prepared and have arguments at their fingertips to justify continued IT investment in corridor conversations or at the Executive (or Board) when all operating budgets arelikely to be under the microscope.

It might be argued that business managers should present the casefor increased IT investment in their business systems, that is as owners or sponsors. However the reality is an increasing numberof information systems cross organisational boundaries and the CIO is often the only manager able to grasp the ramifications of and need for enterprise-wide investment in IT.

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Conclusion: There is an increase in the number of women board directors following changes to diversity disclosure guidelines. However, the pipeline of senior executive women remains small and changes in the workforce are needed to improve this trend. Tight labour markets and an ageing workforce provide opportunities for organisations and industries to differentiate themselves and attract and retain women with future board membership potential. Recognition of planned career breaks for family and appropriate support on re-entry to the workforce can significantly increase senior management participation for women.

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Conclusion: Maintaining innovation while gaining clarity and control over IT operations is a fine balancing act, especially in organisations that are seeing rapid growth. IBRS recently conducted a series of interviews with Australian CIOs regarding their approach to this dilemma. This research note outlines the different approaches taken by these CIOs, and the impact of their personal philosophies regarding staff development on the IT Operating Model.

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Conclusion: Wartime is fast approaching. Some would argue it is already happening around us, and CIOs will be in the firing line. Radically different business models, historically poor relationships with business areas and the confluence of transformational technologies mean that many CIOs will not be able to just incrementally improve operations to stay relevant but lead significant change or face being a casualty of war.

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Some standards are undeniably useful, and the benefits of these standards can typically be quantified in terms of improvements in quality and productivity due to increases in the level of automation and interoperability. In contrast, other standards mainly fuel a certification industry that has developed around a standards body, without leading to any measurable benefits, whilst clearly adding to the operating costs of those organisations that choose to adopt such standards.

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Conclusion: CIOs need a politically sensitive antenna to pick up items of interest or performance metrics that need to be included in their Monthly Operational and Strategic Update reports to the Executive or Board. Their antennas must pick up and focus on matters likely to be on the ‘radar screen’ of the Executive such as responses to a competitive initiative or the status of a critical business system's implementation, which may take priority on the agenda over 'business as usual' matters, such as IT service delivery performance.

Additionally, if a major online systems outage has occurred in the month, they will want to know its impact and steps being taken to ensure it does not happen again.

Strategic Update reports, which are usually required on a regular basis, typically focus on major achievements and initiatives planned for the next reporting period. These reports are aimed at keeping the Executive informed on how IT investment is contributing to meeting business objectives.

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Much anguish has been expressed over the Apple-Samsung patent court battle. It’s not that this run of patents wars is new – they’ve been a feature of the technology business for over a century

One of the nastiest feuds was between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. Apart from being a brilliant inventor Edison was a consummate litigator. One of the reasons the movie business took root in California was to evade Edison’s patent police. He owned the major patents on movie cameras and pursued anyone who reverse engineered his product. The East coast film producers were obliged to pay large fees to Edison; but on the west coast that was evadable. It is a suitable irony that copyright violation is one of the foundations of American film industry. Edison’s struggle with Westinghouse over alternating current versus direct current power was typically bitter. By 1900 Edison’s legal costs were $2M, equivalent to $52M in today’s money.

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Conclusion: One of the hardest tasks for CIOs and line management, unless there is a Board directive, is to convince the Executive to divert scarce resources from enhancing business-critical systems and update their plans on what they might do if a major systems outage or disaster occurred. Paradoxically, it is an easier sell when a preventable outage has occurred recently and the slow recovery has put the organisation’s reputation and their careers at risk.

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Conclusion: Australian ICT organisations are under constant pressure to deliver a higher level of service to customers and stakeholders, at reduced cost in relation to both capital expenditure and on-going operational costs. In addition, there is an increase of vendors in the market offering outsourced services relating to infrastructure, software solutions, business processes or a combination of all of these. As CIOs and CEOs start to consider how best to structure themselves to meet organisational expectations, there could be a wave of new “Hollow ICT” service models implemented across the country.

With a focus firmly on the benefits of outsourcing, all too often CIOs ignore the real costs, benefits, risks and impacts of implementing a leaner internal organisation which leads to reorganisation of ICT area as a reaction and not part of the forward planning.

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Conclusion: The drop in enrolments in IT related courses at academic and vocational institutions in the last 10 years and estimates of job vacancies in 2012 and 2014 are alarming.1 Whilst online job advertisements have declined in the last year, and pending public sector budget job cuts may free up some IT professionals, these are temporary blips and pale alongside long term vacancy projections.

To avoid being caught short in 2014, when unmet job vacancies will peak, hire the best graduates, improve productivity and retain proficient staff. Doing nothing is not an option.

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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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