IT Leaders: Lessons to learn for the future of IT

By Dawinderpal Sahota
24 Aug 2011 View Comments
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This issue of Computing marks the end of our IT Leaders campaign. Over the past few months, the campaign has highlighted what it takes to become an effective CIO, and examined the skills and attributes IT leaders will need to prosper in what looks to be an uncertain future. Below is a summary of the key lessons we have learned.

Further reading

CIOs need to be business-savvy

A survey of 110 CIOs by recruitment consultancy Modis International revealed IT leaders will need three business skills in the future: greater commercial acumen, the ability to think strategically, and strong communication skills.

The firm says commercial acumen is more important now than ever because, as IT increasingly underpins business growth, it has become essential for IT professionals to understand the direction of the business.

“Everything we do must connect back to our customers,” said Paul Coby, IT director at John Lewis.

“Each aspect of business needs to be optimised, improved and simplified through good IT to enable the company’s product or service to be delivered to - and to delight - customers.”

People skills are essential

As outsourcing increases in prevalence, a CIO’s job becomes more about managing relationships.

Students preparing to embark on a career in IT have been briefed by their lecturers and industry that communication capabilities are likely to be the skills most valued by potential employers.

Software vendor CA polled 81 students taking an Information Technology Management for Business degree, and found that 45 per cent believe that communication skills are essential, while just over half (51 per cent) believe that technical IT skills are the least important.

Diversity breeds success

A healthy gender mix is important for business, but just 17 per cent of those in IT are female. Today’s IT leaders need to play their part in ensuring that more women are welcomed into the profession to ensure its future success.

Consultancy McKinsey, which publishes an annual report entitled Women Matter: Gender Diversity, a Corporate Performance Driver, claims organisations with a healthy female influence at board or top-management level perform better, both on an organisational and a financial level.

And it is not only women who are under-represented in the IT industry, according to David Pye, executive committee member of the REC’s technology sector group. IT leaders need to ensure that they do not to overlook older IT workers, who are often undervalued.

“There are a lot of older people in IT; people who are 50-plus with many important skills, but employers sometimes take youth over experience even when the latter would suit them better. They should not forget that experienced people will be able to pass on their knowledge to the younger generation,” he said.

IT’s image needs a makeover

The crop of IT leaders in the future will be small unless the industry helps to change the image of IT in schools and colleges.

Children do not enjoy IT lessons, as evidenced by recent research from the Royal Society showing that across England there has been a 33 per cent drop in ICT GCSE students in the past three years, a 33 per cent drop in numbers studying A-level ICT in the past six years and a huge 57 per cent drop in A-level computing students in the past eight years.

As a result, there are not enough young people pursuing IT as a career, meaning there will be a dearth of talent in the coming years, and a major cause of this is the way the industry is perceived.

CIOs can help to change this - a few organisations, such as IT services firm Avanade and Womenintechnology.co.uk, run schemes that see representatives visit schools and talk to students about IT careers. Another successful way of demonstrating that IT can be a rewarding career is to provide apprenticeships.

Channel 4 takes on two university students a year as trainees. They divide their time between studying and working, and Channel 4 pays for their education.

Kevin Gallagher, CIO at Channel 4, believes the terminology commonly used when talking about careers in IT puts young people off the idea of joining.

“We need to find a new language in which to talk about IT. I do not think young people understand what a job in the industry is all about and that it is actually quite exciting. They do not make the connection with the technology that they use and the IT industry - and the challenge for the industry is to change that.”

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