The Many Hats of IT Managers
In years past, the IT department of most large organizations was much like a version of Middle Earth: a mysterious nether world where people who seemed infinitely smarter than the rest of us bustled around, speaking and typing languages that appeared indecipherable, yet, which made our world work. They knew things. They were always incredibly busy, and you felt a surge of privilege when it finally became your time to have an audience with one of them.
I remember the first time an IT wizard came at me with his claws. I was a student, running spreadsheet formulas in Lotus 1-2-3 (yes, I am that old) for the Forex trading floor of a major bank. Looking up from my black and green screen, I saw the head IT guy coming at me with a set of hand operated claws, like a prop from Edward Scissorhands. He plunged the points of the claws into the carpet next to my chair. It was then that I discovered I had been working upon a false floor. The claws lifted a square carpet segment up and out of the way, to reveal a maze of cables, pipes and blinking lights. Middle Earth. He dove halfway down into the space, wrestled with something unseen, and emerged upright once again. He then retreated into his climate-controlled server room, protected by magnetic door locks and the ever-present threat of a purging blast of Halon gas.
The modern age has changed much of this. The IT department is becoming a different entity – one in which secrecy gives way to openness, in-house gives way to cloud, and perhaps most significant of all, its status as a cost centre has changed to become a business. As such, IT Managers and IT executives face a serious modification to their business model. They must now wear many hats.
First, the adoption of cloud technology, especially hybrid cloud, means that much of the work that IT managers used to do directly is now handled by outside experts. Security, maintenance, upgrades – these are now the domain of the managed services provider. The IT manager becomes the buyer, the client. Such a shift requires greater business skills than ever before, to identify and scrutinize key providers and delegate work accordingly. The wizard’s hat is being replaced by the entrepreneur’s hat.
The IT manager must keep this entrepreneur’s hat on while investigating consumer trends. In both the B2B and B2C worlds, customers are demanding a more personalized, engaging experience, in which big data and predictive analytics further the sales relationship at an unprecedented level of quality. Responsive websites, adaptive mobile and smartphone sites require a mindset that is both strategic and technically adept, if the competition is to be held at bay.
The IT manager must also have an Executive’s hat nearby, because a seat at the boardroom table is now a necessity. No company dare make strategic decisions anymore without input from IT. The IT department is no longer there to “make it so” once a decision has been made, the IT department must be part of that decision.
IT must also wear an HR manager’s hat, since strategies BYOD and CYOD will have profound impact on attracting and retaining key talent as well as ensuring productivity from the workforce.
Time Management Skills
Time management has always been an essential skill for IT managers, but now a great deal of this must be more proactive than ever: keeping up with trends and technologies, instead of retaining the tradition of reactive time management that came along with help desk calls, firefighting and service tickets.
IT must also offer a greater awareness of human factors engineering in assessing how technologies will be used by mere mortals once deployed. There has long been a disconnect between those who held the secret knowledge of which key was the “any key” in software instructions and why certain dialog boxes tell users to click “OK” to cancel a command, or “Cancel” to continue. In earlier years, people simply proceeded as best they could, or took time out of their day to take a course. Now, however, each and every one of them is at liberty, unofficially, to go online and find something better that suits them, whether it fits with the corporate mantra or not. This too, spills over into the BYOD and cloud debates.
IT Managers must display great amounts of political savvy when dealing with CEOs and large ERP-based organizations; for although technology continues to surge ahead, there is a great deal of legacy and traditionalism to wade through.
Finally, an IT manager must feel a relentless hunger for the best. The world of business continues to roll along with dizzying swiftness, and an acceptance of this pace of change is the lynchpin to ensuring a company stays on top of the game in satisfying its clients, both internal and external. It’s still black magic, but it is now a great deal more diverse.
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By Steve Prentice