Define pressure points to leverage business value

IT directors need to adapt their cost control expertise to optimise new opportunities

IT directors need to adapt their cost control expertise to optimise new opportunities

After several years of fine-tuning the skills of cost containment, IT directors have become disciplined experts in budget management - the art of getting more out of less and managing expectations.

No one is suggesting that management's persistent budget focus is about to end. Cost discipline skills will be in even greater demand as organisations attempt to free up funding to invest in growth and meet other business needs.

But IT directors are going to need a very different skill-set if they are to optimise the new opportunities and leverage them into business value in the coming financial year.

The key to determining the skill-set you need is to clearly understand the environment in which you operate. Is the pressure on you to do the same with less (efficiency), more with the same (effectiveness), or something completely different (breakthrough)?

Efficiency means minimising operational costs. Attractive technology initiatives are likely to be application integration, outsourcing and standardisation.

For effectiveness, the focus will be on tactical issues. Beneficial technology applications might be in customer relationship management, business intelligence and agility.

In terms of breakthrough, the focus will be on innovation and creativity within a managed risk environment.

Meeting these diverse demands depends on six key skills: leadership, forward-thinking, strategy, organisational skills, delivering results and measuring outcomes.

One of the most important skills is the ability to predict future threats and opportunities to the business. The best way to learn this is through experience - by getting out of the office and networking with industry counterparts and suppliers. In many cases there is also the greater need of measuring the benefits of ITinvestment to the business.

But the issue of what skills are required is only one aspect - IT directors also need to know how to acquire them.

Should you attend courses? And should there be a certificate for IT director skills?IT directors are among the most influential people in a business but, alarmingly, there is no common skills benchmark. Contrast this to the accountancy profession where, for instance, most finance directors have qualified through a professional body.

There is a pressing need for structured and industry-wide training for IT directors, although any of the skills they will need to succeed in the new environment can best be developed through workplace assignments and initiatives.

Focus on the areas you believe are opportunities for improvement, pick a mentor or role model for each one and learn the skills on the job. That way, you will find that you are able to stay ahead - either in your current job, or the next one.

Colin Steed is chief executive of the Institute of IT Training

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