Last week I spoke at a chief executives' conference. It was a depressing occasion, heads low, CVs up to date, lots of questions about what happens next, and what to do about it. My pitch was simple: now is the time, more than ever before, to ensure IT directors, departments and services are recognised as the powerful business force that they are.
It was a brave pitch that won a lukewarm reception. During the subsequent discussion we established the five top priorities that delegates expect from their IT directors, teams and departments, and I suggested what other board members are looking for, from their company leaders.
Chief executives need IT directors to do certain things, listed here in priority order, together with one suggestion for how to achieve each:
Cut costs without affecting service quality
Focus on key projects, and make sure they deliver. Streamline project volume, and make sure your peers accept full responsibility for making the benefits happen
Realise the true value, and benefits, of existing systems
Just as less than 5% of desktop functions are used, most systems you have installed are not delivering real returns. Make sure that they do. Ensure, also, that every live system and application is owned, embraced - loved, even - by the people using it.
Reduce staff and contract numbers while retaining and motivating key people
Your people can be divided into three unequal groups: those that stand by you and deliver no matter what; the many who perform sometimes; and the few who sit around and waste everyone's time. Move as many people as possible from the second group (excellent people who could be more effective) into the first. If you have to reduce numbers, you know where to look.
Forge closer links with existing customers
Look to the Web. Now it must start to deliver, in sales, and in knowledge of customer activity and behaviour. This is the area to demonstrate to the rest of your company that you are in the shop window, at the forefront of your customer relationships
Cut the volume of data, and turn it into useful knowledge on which key decisions can be based
Two men are sitting in a jungle, relaxing with their feet in water. Suddenly, noticing a tiger running towards them, one starts running, barefoot. The other stops to put on his training shoes. The first shouts over his shoulder, "Leave them behind, you can't outrun a tiger." The second man replies, "I don't have to outrun the tiger, I have to outrun you." For training shoes read knowledge - find it, use it.
So what are the top three actions we need, from our leaders?
First, build one team, one vision. Make sure everyone pulls together.
Second, be visible. We need to know you are fighting on our side, we need to be inspired. Just walk through our department, occasionally. It makes a huge difference.
And finally, help us to be ready for when the good times return. And they will. We must learn the lessons from the early 1990s, when it took us a while to react. We must not cut back in areas that our future success will depend on - which, includes people and IT.
Amid the doom and gloom, I wonder whether too many people talk themselves into recession. Maybe it is time to look at things differently.
No one really knows what will happen next - but isn't that fantastic? It means we can design whatever future we dream, desire and deserve.
David Taylor's Inside Track is published by Butterworth Heinemann, tel: 01865-888180
This was first published in October 2001