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: Two previous articles on this topic were triggered by a January 2006 McKinsey & Co. survey1 on the IT spending patterns of 37 retail and wholesale banks. In essence, it showed that the lowest spenders were judged as delivering the greatest business value from their investment in IT.

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Conclusion: Last month’s article on this topic was triggered by a January 2006 McKinsey & Co. survey1 on the IT spending patterns of 37 retail and wholesale banks. In essence, it showed that the lowest spenders were judged as delivering the greatest business value from their investment in IT.

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Conclusion: A McKinsey & Co. survey1 of the spending patterns of 37 retail and wholesale banks, published in January 2006 revealed a startling paradox. Those banks judged as delivering the greatest business value from their investment in IT, were also among the lowest spenders.

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IT due diligence is primarily undertaken to understand the target business IT systems with a view to establishing the resources and costs involved in integrating them into the acquirer’s IT systems, the possibility of the target business having a more suitable IT infrastructure already in place should not be ignored. The IT due diligence exercise must be exhaustive and particular emphasis placed on reviewing and understanding contracts with third parties and the possibilities of rationalising software licences. These are areas where value can often be added in the form of cost savings and improved processes.

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Conclusion: Evolutionary changes in the composition of the IT workforce 1 will continue to occur in mature organisations in next 3 to 5 years, but in immature organisations, where the focus is on today’s operations only, revolutionary change will be needed to enable the IT workforce to maximise the benefits from IT-related investment.

Fuelling the need for change in the IT workforce is the continuous enhancement of desk top and business process automation software combined with an increasingly IT literate workforce keen to exploit the latest technologies. In the opposite corner is the need to maintain business systems as usual, keep costs under control and minimise risks from uncontrolled use of the Internet. Senior management’s role is to hold the competing interests in tension.

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How often have we seen it in recent years? IT Management journals with articles about the need for CIO’s to get closer to the business. In many cases it is suggested that in order to add value to the business, the CIO should become involved in the development of business strategies and to put forward proposals for the use of technology to support the implementation of these strategies.

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Conclusion: A recent study1 has found Australian IT managers have the highest need, compared to their peers, to develop their influencing capability overall. The result is not surprising. Previous studies2 have found, as a generalisation, IT managers and professionals are task oriented and have low social skills relative to their peers. Unfortunately, these attributes stymie efforts to influence others and sell their ideas.

All is not lost however. IT managers and professionals can acquire the insights and skills needed to exercise an influence and persuade others, providing they are willing to make changes to their management style.

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Conclusion: Even with software to automate research functions and aggregate data, many organisations do not have a clear understanding about their customers. This condition of near blindness is made more difficult in large and diverse organisations, where it is obvious that a whole customer perspective would be commercially advantageous, but is challenging to obtain.

By a mixture of technology and astute strategic planning, it is possible to gain customer insights but to do so requires precise planning, setting objectives and indicators, in conjunction with methodologies to gain feedback.

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Conclusion: Identifying the right person to the right task or project and helping them succeed is a major challenge for most managers, principally because it involves knowing the competencies and aspirations of each candidate. This knowledge is rarely acquired quickly. Ironically it is often only when the assignee has encountered stressful situations, such as a conflict with a client or vendor or had to deal with an unexpected delay in the project that the knowledge is refined.

Stressful situations also test the manager who may have to help the assignee ride the wave or resolve the conflict. This article provides a useful framework for determining how to identify competencies and help assignees maximise their performance. It also canvasses options to consider when things are not going well.

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Conclusion: There is compelling evidence in Australia and New Zealand that ongoing investment in IT is being hindered by a shortage of trained IT professionals. While the evidence, which is in industry surveys, government statistics and job advertisements, is compelling it begs the question, ‘What can I do to mitigate the shortage of skilled IT and business professionals in my organisation?’

While innovative strategies are presented in this article, they are no substitute for sound HR practices, such as implementing flexible working and leave arrangements, sound benefits management and using astute people management practices.

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Conclusion: IT related governance processes in a federated business model, i.e. where autonomous business units or divisions have own IT staff and resources, must focus on what is needed to achieve the strategic objectives of the organisation and at the same time help each unit achieve its potential.

The governance processes typically presume each business unit will cooperate and contribute resources and expertise to the organisation when requested. It is axiomatic that failure to cooperate in the governance, or decision making, processes will frustrate efforts to get the best outcomes for the organisation.

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It was also evident that a number of business and IT staff (some quite senior) who had been involved throughout the acquisition and specification process had growing concerns about the process and the path that the project was taking. However, these people had chosen to remain silent, largely it would seem in deference to Mr. H’s ebullient and fearsome style.

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Since IT began as a profession, within many organisations there seems to have been some degree of tension between IT and Finance.

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Conclusion: Industry and research publications have cogitated for many years on the CIO’s role and responsibilities. Some recent articles in journals have speculated the role will become redundant due to emergence of information systems or point solutions owned and operated by business units.

Whilst some organisations operate point solutions from within business units, e.g. equities trading desks in wholesale banks and exploration systems in oil and gas companies, the reality is that these organisations also have statutory reporting and corporate compliance requirements. These requirements force them to consolidate financial and other data typically under the remit of the CIO or equivalent.

Other commentators emphasise the supply side of the CIO role and assume IT literate business managers will occupy the demand side an act as informed buyers. In my observation this is less than ideal as the buyers typically have stretched performance objectives leaving them little time for involvement in IT related matters.

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I recently had the opportunity to participate in a workspace design project for knowledge workers. The organisation was keen to provide the right physical environment and tools to help retain them and maximise their contribution to the success of the enterprise.

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Conclusion: The literature is replete with reasons why projects fail but strangely one that rarely gets mentioned is, ‘appointment of an inappropriate project manager’ or equivalent. Picking the right person for the right project is not difficult providing some guidelines, related to identifying the skills, attributes and personality type preference of the person, are followed and the type of the project is clear.

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Conclusion: The CIO organisation can be considered as the CEO organisation in microcosm. Both domains encounter similar issues: strategy, market penetration and credibility, cost reductions and so on.

As with last month’s article, this one draws on insights gained from studies of major corporations and is intended to provide inspiration to CIOs keen to improve practices and lift performance within their domain.

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Conclusion: Some of the lessons from corporate management literature can be applied to the successful running of an IT shop. This article contains insights gained from studies of some of the world’s most admired companies and provides new ways to think about planning for the future through the application of the ‘three horizons’ technique.

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Almost overnight our organisation became a $3 billion a year company with staff numbering 3,500 and in excess of 100 locations. This all occurred despite a business plan which stated that we would not be seeking revenue growth over the next three years but rather seeking, greater profit on a steady turnover through increased efficiencies. However when opportunity knocks it is not easy to turn it away, particularly when you are under clear instructions from the parent company.

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2006 marks a significant 50 year anniversary for computing in Australia. On July 4th 1956 it is claimed that the first program was run on SILLIAC, a valve computer that was assembled and housed at the Physics Department of the University of Sydney. Over the years much political mileage has been made on both sides of politics, about how Australians have often been at the forefront in pioneering new technologies, but have been slow in exploiting and commercialising them. However, these assertions need to be tested, certainly as far as information technology is concerned.

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The changes that are currently being driven through the business are having an interesting affect on how Information Technology is being viewed. As it becomes more and more apparent that the changes required rely in the main on IT to deliver the appropriate infrastructure, it becomes equally apparent that there are insufficient IT resources to do so efficiently within the time frame expected. Furthermore the extent of the changes and the demands on IT are such that a significant additional investment in personnel and software is required.

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Conclusion: The end of the calendar year is always a time of soul-searching and reflection. What has been nagging you this year that you know can be improved upon next year? Before 2006 begins in earnest, think about some of the aspects of CIO life that could be changed for the better.

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As discussed in these pages before this company has been undertaking a significant review of business processes since the large losses that were experienced on both the Hilton Hotel and Spencer Street Railway Station projects some eighteen months ago. While this review is still very much in progress a number of necessary organisational changes have already been identified and are in various stages of implementation.

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Conclusion: Manywho have outsourced their Service Desk complain that in doing so they lost touch with the pulse of their organisation. Bringing the Service Desk back in-house allows customer and IT intimacy to be re-established.

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I have been involved in the provision of information technology solutions in the construction industry for twenty five years. In that time the industry has altered enormously and the model for delivery of information technology infrastructure has changed with it.

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Conclusion: Most organisations (and agencies) use a formal staff (including management) performance review or appraisal process to give everyone feedback on their contribution and insights into their strengths and weaknesses. While most organisations publish procedures on how the process should operate, it is typically left to busy line managers to implement it albeit, in my observation, in a patchy way, eg because many work on long term projects their immediate contribution is hard to assess.

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For the federal government, the forthcoming sale of Telstra has taken the Industrial Relations debate off the front page of our newspapers. This must provide some relief at a time when they were faring poorly in the public relations debate with the union movement. Whilst the legislation is still being drafted and is not expected to be available until late October, the central proposition is to deregulate the labour market.

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Conclusion: As executive management become more cynical about technology’s ability to deliver change, they continue to depend upon it as an enabler whilst keeping a closer rein than ever on the IT spending component of change programs. This places enormous pressure on the IT Executive. However, change programs are not just about technology. The problem is that the IT component is usually the most visible, and often the most expensive part of a change program. In my experience, if an IT-based project fails to deliver, though the Project Sponsor may nominally be responsible, the technology is often blamed and it is the IT Executive who may well be brought to account by association.

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Conclusion: When asked to give a succinct report on the organisation's (or agency's) IS investment strategy to the Executive or Board one of the dilemmas managers face is what should be included and excluded. For the purpose of this publication the strategy report is quite different to the report on operational matters envisaged in the IBRS March 2004 article, 'What do you tell your peers every month'.

While the context and business imperatives might vary by organisation, such as the competitive environment and whether the organisation is in containment or growth mode, I believe there are common elements of a strategy report and have set them out below.

For the purpose of this article assume the presenter is allocated has 40 minutes to one hour.

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Alan Hansell’s paper in May 2005 entitled “Chief Knowledge Officer – Needed or Passing Fad?” has prompted me to share some of the experiences we went through when we went down the path of appointing a CKO some four years ago. That position is still retained today and, while it has not yet had the influence we had originally anticipated, it still has the potential to deliver the benefits we had hoped for and it is intended that we continue with it for the foreseeable future.

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Conclusion: The capacity to understand and transform business data into knowledge and use it for commercial gain is one of the differentiators of a well performing organisation or agency. How this might be achieved is the focus of this article.

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Over the last few years I have grown to learn that there is this thing called ‘Real Work’. I haven’t been able to identify what ‘Real Work’ is but I can tell you this, ‘Real Work’ must be very very important.

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Conclusion: Recent media coverage has highlighted a shortage of qualified trades’ people in the labour market. The technology industry has not had a problem in attracting people; however, with an aging population and other market forces at play, the ICT industry also faces shortages.

In February CIO magazine reported that the ATO had moved a software development project from Canberra to Melbourne because it couldn’t fill 100 new positions required to complete the project. This instance may be exceptional, and Canberra is an atypical labour market, but nevertheless it is a sign. <p ">   <p "> With the overall available labour falling in coming years, business and IT managers will have to plan new ways to attract and retain a scarce resource. A new competitive pressure will be thrust on IT departments.

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Conclusion: Amazingly some senior business executives still proudly state, ‘I don't understand anything about information technology'. One can see how an executive might have thought this way in the 1970s but now some 30 years later and with ICT fundamental to day to day operations of every organisation such a view is just simply unacceptable.

In today's environment senior ICT executives should take every opportunity to make the CEO and board members aware of the business opportunities and risks associated with effective ICT investments. CIO's should also make sure ICT governance processes involve senior business executives in strategic not operational decision making.

CIO's need to encourage their CEO and other members of the Executive to start saying ‘I need to understand the impacts of information technology on our business'.

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For a long time now the organisational structure of the group of construction companies to which we belong has more or less flown in the face of what would normally be considered best practice. The holding company’s philosophy has always been that as three of the operating divisions compete against each other in the highly competitive Australian market place, they should, within reason, be free to leverage what competitive advantage they can.

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Conclusion: In management, the role of character has been understood for some time and is frequently covered in the business literature. It is also at the core of profile testing which is used to learn how adept people are for certain jobs in an organisation.

For most managers how and why they make certain choices, or decide to follow particular plans are based on demands and outside influences. Yet starting new initiatives, even embarking on a project that is genuinely strategic may be rooted in a manager’s motivations.

To successfully implement projects and set the feasible priorities over the next year; a clearer view of how and why you manage your job can be an effective way to do it better.

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The challenges facing the CIOs of midsize businesses are not expected to become easier. Continuing requirements to support the growth of their businesses by adding new offices, new applications and more staff mean that they have to increase the capabilities of the IT, probably without the benefit of increased staff and budgets. They will also have to deal with new vendors, sales channels and disappearing vendors.

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The recent report* published by the Institute of Chartered Accountants on the role of the CFO is of significance to all who interact with the CFO on a day to day basis. In 2001, in a comparable report, the researchers found the CFO’s focus was on ways to enhance business performance and reduce costs through vehicles such as Shared Services units and getting the benefits expected from their ERP software implementations.

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Conclusion: Increasing competition and the need to engage skilled people on demand will drive the need to form virtual teams. Those engaged must not only be appropriately skilled, but confident and adaptable people who can work successfully in isolation.

To succeed managers of virtual teams must treat every member of the team as an equal, respect their opinion and let them know they are trusted. Conversely, command and control style of management will de-motivate the right people and fail.

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Conclusion: A common complaint from IT specialists is that "the business" doesn't understand what they can deliver to an organisation nor fully comprehend what their capabilities are. A direct result of an organisation's internal dysfunction in this regard is that projects and teams fail to deliver timely and effective work.

According to IT Skills Hub, a not for profit organisation set up by the Commonwealth Government and the Australian Information Technology and Telecommunications (IT&T) industry to deal with education and training in the IT sector:

"IT managers can't translate a project into a business outcome. So team members don't know what's expected of them or the project. IT managers […] need to be your best managers since all projects rely on people working together to deliver a product/solution. They also need to be great communicators who can manage the relationship with the customer and the teams."1

The ways and means of solving the problem, both in work practices and overall management between departments are possible using the basics of communication and cooperation. Managers must take the responsibility of identifying the problems and then establishing a process to cure it.

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