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.

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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Cynicism is much too easy at election time as the general impression is that few large differences exist between the players. To understand the policy differences between the contenders Information Age sought some answers from the two main parties which were answered by the two politicians responsible, for the Coalition, Senator the Hon Helen Coonan and for Labor, Senator Kate Lundy.

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Conclusion: According to Roy Morgan Research, nearly six million people use a search engine each month and the competition to serve them is becoming more intense. With the July launch of its search engine, Sensis, the advertising arm of Telstra, is marketing its services more aggressively. Over the last few years it has defined a niche for itself in the SME sector of Australian business and aims to capitalise on that relationship for the future.

Despite Google's apparent pre-eminence and Overture's strong ties with major online publishers, Sensis purports to offer a range of products that the two do not have. Competition will be greater now as Overture is directly pitching at the SME sector but with its variety of online properties, Sensis claims to have a suite of services that are appropriate to any type of organisation.

Organisations will benefit from the additional competition in the search and services market and ought to examine the product portfolios of each company to see how they can deliver results through their channels more efficiently.

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Conclusion: Many State and Federal Government Agencies across Australia are faced with a dilemma.  Their attempt to restrict the level of ICT salaries for permanent employees has created a situation where Government IT managers cannot compete for quality ICT professionals.  Their only avenue for hiring top-flight staff is through contracting.  This has lead to an excessive dependency on expensive contracting even for day-to-day IT delivery.

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If you are a lover of ‘Fawlty Towers', you might remember Mrs Richards - arguably Basil's most difficult guest.  No matter what Basil offered to do for her, it was never enough.  Finally, he offered (among other things) to ‘Move Mt Everest six inches to the left'.  I am sure if he had achieved this, she would have complained that it should have been moved seven inches.  Basil's problem was that neither he nor Mrs Richards could agree on a reasonable outcome that would satisfy both of them.

Many IT managers face this very same problem.  They work with business stakeholders on initiatives without agreement on what a successful outcome might be.  Now at this stage most readers are saying, ‘that's not me - we have everything specified'.  Well, specifications are one thing.  The expectations people have deep in their hearts are something else again.

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Conclusion: With a growing economy, low inflation and unemployment rate, a talent war for skilled professionals who can act as informed buyers and integrators of Business Solutions is upon us.

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While CIOs and IT staff in USA, and in local affiliates of US companies, are wrestling with the ramifications of Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, Australian CIOs are now coming to grips with the consequences of its local counterpart, CLERP9 (Corporate Law Economic Reform Program 9).    

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The other day I came across an article, which had been published in the Technology Trends section of New Scientist, entitled "Hack out the useless extras". The author, a Professor of Media Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was discussing what he called "featuritis", which he defined as the drive to pack new releases of hardware, specifically laptop computers, with new features and options resulting in numerous ways to do the same thing with fewer and fewer of them intuitively obvious.

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One of the most difficult dilemmas an IS project manager or CIO is likely to face is what steps should be taken when the client will not accept a proven technical solution, e.g. because she claims acceptance will compromise her ability to meet her performance criteria set by the CEO.  

While the ‘crash or crash through' approach is tempting, it is risky. Pursuing it is likely to bruise everyone involved. Another option, which is to go to the CEO to get the matter resolved, is not politically astute. In most firms it is lore that asking the CEO to resolve an impasse is viewed as failure.

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Conclusion: In his book Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin argued ‘that it is neither the strongest, nor the most intelligent but most responsive to change that survive'.   Over the last four decades we have seen many species of IT professionals rise to lofty heights briefly prosper and then rapidly become extinct.  If you are of the Genus IT Darwin's theory of evolution is critical to your career.

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Conclusion: Managers working in a steady state environment, with few major successes and unexceptionable performance metrics, generally struggle to engage their peers at monthly operating performance meetings.

The problem is compounded when peers, who operate in a high profile environment, are able to actively engage the audience at the monthly meeting using attractively presented performance metrics, accompanied by streaming video footage material.

What can managers, including CIOs, who struggle to engage their peers, do to turn the situation around and earn the commendation of the meeting?

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Conclusion: This paper argues that managing staff with outdated skills and removing poor performers are the real resourcing problems facing many IT managers.   

IT managers must take personal responsibility for staffing and skills management. All of the valuable staff in the IT area are relying on YOU the IT manager to deal with poor performers and unaligned skills. Working with poor performers frustrates good staff and drives them out of your organisation. You’re their only hope! Don’t let them down or they will leave.

IT managers need to look at four key techniques for developing the right skills mix in their organisations. These are the new team strategy, re-skill staff to leave, re-skill staff to stay, and termination.

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For a long time now we have run a national private computer network, based predominantly on Optus Frame Relay and ATM with some Telstra On Ramp, mainly for redundancy. The network topology has been based on a “hub and spoke” model where Head Office, which hosts the data centre and provides our only gateway into the Internet, is the central hub, the branch offices are secondary hubs and the projects are on the perimeter, coming and going as the business dictates. Naturally as reliance on the network grows, and network traffic increases, the communication links in this network have expanded to meet the need.

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Conclusion: As a CIO, or an IT Manager, a key part of your job will be helping business leaders recognise opportunities where IT could improve the way they do business.

If you haven’t made an effort to build a personal relationship with your peers BEFORE you try to give them business advice you will almost certainly fail. Put simply, if they don’t like you they won’t trust you and they won’t listen to your advice.

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Conclusion: An organisation’s culture is a vital part of its business process but it’s an element of a company that is only examined when there are problems. Taking stock of the state of the company’s culture, and also observing it within departments, could be another means of improving profitability and employee satisfaction.

For an examination of culture to be worthwhile, it ought to strive for definite outcomes or else it may become just another exercise in staff management. Managers can make two plays to attain goals:

  1. Sanction consent and support at executive management level as it must be something the company endorses;

  2. Make the diagnostic process deliver results and not just analysis, thereby establishing goals in the future.

By ensuring that a cultural examination will be useful to an organisation, a better understanding of how the firm is working is gained. This type of information is qualitatively useful for managers.

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Conclusion: Just as one size car does not suit everyone, so one organisational design and IT management structure will not meet the needs of all firms or agencies. As there is no perfect approach for developing an IT management structure, managers must research available options, assess their suitability and ‘road test’ them before implementing them.

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Conclusion: CIOs who sit back and wait for their executive teams to implement ICT governance are putting their own careers at risk. While business leaders continue to misunderstand measures of ICT performance CIOs face two perennial problems: good performance may go completely unrecognised while CIOs may be blamed for failures that are totally outside their control.

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Conclusion – Restructure roles and responsibilities of staff only when there are compelling reasons and apply the guiding principles, as set out below, when designing the new structure.

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Conclusion: In 2003 any failure of e-commerce systems through problems with supporting technology is seen as a failure of the whole organisation. Many business leaders have recognised that they need better models for governing IT investments and ensuring effective IT operations. To their dismay most CIOs have not recognised that change is required. Today many CIOs are ‘playing the wrong game’. Unless they quickly understand what is required they will be replaced with managers who do.

Many CIOs have remained focused on low cost operational support when they should be working hard to grow corporate capabilities in IT strategic planning, enterprise architecture, program and project management, relationship management and technology R+D.

For years CIOs have been waiting for an opportunity to work with business as a full partner. Today that opportunity is staring many CIO’s in the face and most haven’t recognised it.

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Conclusion: Every department within an enterprise is under greater scrutiny to prove their worth. For the IT service department rising beyond a service supplier relationship with the rest of the firm or agency means marketing their wares in two ways:

  1. Delivering services in a timely and responsive manner which like all actions can be a matter of execution;

  2. Opening and maintaining two-way communication channels with all areas of the organisation: necessary to deliver services today and to anticipate next stage requirements. To achieve these aims may require implementing some tried and tested marketing and market research techniques.

Getting the approach to marketing right can make a difference in effectiveness for an organisation, not just for the IT department.

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Conclusion: By helping geeks (those who deliver technical solutions) resolve the ambiguity inherent in their work environment you can help them deliver quality technical solutions and meet your work-related objectives.

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Conclusion: While attracting and retaining staff is no longer a pre-occupation of CIOs, the challenge today is to manage IT professionals in a way that maximises their contribution and minimises the possibility of them seeking another role.

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Most e-commerce communications have been done with email or some other form of advertising, whether banners or tiles. These have not yielded the results initially hoped for and so scepticism has crept in about the whole field. Up steps an Australian firm called SimCast with a new approach to the problem of so-called ‘permission marketing’, that is, when customers want to be contacted about services and products.

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Conclusion: One of the best means of gaining greater leverage in business marketing is with the sales force. The sales team is the most valuable unit to promote the business, as it already knows the key elements of selling the business, namely:

  • a brand value understanding;

  • the customer value;

  • an ability to communicate customer value;

  • and follow through with implementation and management.

In the current business environment operations are being reviewed to gain greater returns and consequently the sales force needs to be retrained in operational management and undergo a revision of sales tactics to achieve targets. Those tactics may include ancillary and competitive affiliations to network the company’s product to the market.

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Conclusion: In the past, age and income were reliable predictors of behaviour but now, and in the future, the old definitions do not depict consumers well. Regardless of the industry, businesses in the future must gain quality consumer psychographic research either, syndicated or customised, if they are to operate confidently in evolving consumer markets. The other ingredient to the emerging customer strategy is segmenting and categorising the market by what consumers think, hope and wish for rather than any other fixed metric like age or even income. This involves slicing consumer markets into separate dimensions to gain a better view on how they operate and what will drive them in the future.

Marketing management has always wanted to get inside customers’ heads and it will be essential to do so to understand what they want, dream of, and ultimately buy.

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