Future IT Directors – Need to be promoters of organisational change

Posted by Kevin Brady on Mon 23rd October 2006 at 09:00 AM, Filed in Industry News

This morning I read two articles “create alliances to drive change, IT directors told” Computerweekly 13/05/06 by Will Hadfield and John Riley & “Career Opportunities” by Sally Flood 15/06/06 Computing Magazine. Both these articles had positive points to make about what should be the future role of CTO’s and IT directors.


The key point mentioned in both articles is that it is vital, if companies and government departments want the following:-

• Value for money IT services

• Improvements in IT development productivity

• Systems which match original business requirements

then the recipe for success starts at the top !

“General-ship” has always been a key element of success, whether it be military (Julia Caesar /Napoleon) or the running of an IT department. In my view, a major part of this recipe is picking an IT director /CTO with the following key attributes-


Commitment to Transparency, Transparency and more Transparency i.e. reporting, budgets, quality checking, risk issue management. Command of the facts is control!


Strategic thinker with a focus on the big picture.

Good picker of staff. Magic can occur with the right people

Hardened management professional with wide range or large /small project experience. Must have experienced failure and success.

Leadership - Prepared to carry a board of directors with them rather than just following instructions

Will Hadfield mentions that one of the key themes of the 2006 IT Directors Forum held annually on the Oriana, was that IT directors and CIO’s need to be a dominant force within organisations and not be boardroom “lap dogs”. In my view if you don’t follow this advice, you will be one of the statistics, which makes up the 30% per annum senior IT management employment turnover rate.

One of the biggest reasons for IT project /programme failure in the UK and rising IT costs is the lack of business involvement (real /proper sponsorship) in initiated IT projects. All too often business people think that once an IT system project has been initiated they can just stand back and it will turn up like magic. A strong IT director needs to get down to basics as early on in the job as possible, and start driving through key areas of organisational change. 

Some of these must be:-

Encouraging closer relationships between technology and business people at the middle and junior levels so that changes in technological are pushed upwards through the business organisation.

The provision of effective business sponsorship for IT projects. “Tim Gregory, Wiltshire County Council’s head of ICT, said during the conference, “It is frequently the IT Director who is going to drive change in the organisation. The board then has to provide leadership and direction across the organisation, or the change will not be delivered.” Irrelevant of the business case, if you don’t have strong sponsorship and commitment by the business people in the areas of requirements gathering, risk issue management, testing and the setting of test acceptance criteria, the project or programme of work is dead before it even gets off the drawing board.

The biggest barrier to this change is the fact that boards of directors and senior line managers really don’t fully appreciate the need for their involvement, and how the odds of success dramatically reduce without their help and assistance. I have felt for many years that organisations which heavily depend on IT for the success of their business or the effective supply of a service in the case of government, need to make sure their line managers receive the following :-

Experience in Project Management (changing sides) and get some involvement in project or programme audit support work.

Attend a certificated IT sponsorship-training course (if such things exist).

In my experience, it has been the lack of ability on the part of the business clients to distinguish between the “hype and the real odds” of a successful delivery, which is at the heart of many IT Project /Programme failures. Business sponsors are usually very “pumped up” at the beginning of a IT project /programme, and it is often near impossible to “get them earthed”. This hype is often reinforced by Software House sales people and consultants who assist in the development of cultures where “conspiracies of optimism” are rife. These conspiracies leave realists with a choice of either keeping quiet about issues /risks or they’re out the door - “our way or the high way”. I have written a more detailed article on why this situation can kill many IT projects “The Path To Project Success”.

All to often business sponsors fail to register that the larger your IT project /programme the greater the odds of failure, which increase at an expodential rate, toping for the largest IT projects failure rate odds as high as 90%. Please see the CHAOS survey for further information.

Sponsors often fail to understand that to improve these poor odds, something special and out of the ordinary has to happen. In my experience, many sponsors believe with almost religious fervour that positive waves, energy, and determination will win through. Anything else is negative thinking!

Well, IT departments aren’t like running sales teams and here maybe lies the essence of the problem that is rising IT costs and failing IT projects.

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