How IT managers can learn the business

What help is available for IT managers to ease the transition from the technical side of IT to learning the fundamentals of...

IT directors have to expand on their role to become business leaders, but how does someone who only knows the technical aspects of IT make that transition?

Informal networking organisations such as the British Computer Society's Elite Group, CIO-Connect and the Impact Programme can provide help and advice.

"Elite is made up of about 350 IT directors and senior managers," said Jason Barretto of the BCS.

"Its primary function is to provide networking through forums and regular meetings, but it also runs conferences, such as September's Effective Leadership conference. You need to be an IT manager or director to join and you must be approved by the membership committee."

CIO-Connect, set up by John Handby, former head of IT at GlaxoSmithKline and the Royal Mail, also provides a forum for senior IT directors and chief information officers. But a new venture launched this year, IT-Connect, focuses on the next level down in corporate IT.

"IT-Connect is specifically designed for the managers who report directly to the CIO," said Handby. It offers a series of leadership briefings aimed at those who CIOs typically rely on for news on technology and what they need to learn next.

"What is fascinating is that we have got enormous enthusiasm for the course from our CIOs, who see those who report to them on technical matters as their responsibility."

An IT-Connect conference entitled Getting Ready for Leadership is planned for spring 2004, where a panel of senior CIOs will pass on their top tips.

Handby said, "The core message is that CIOs need to spend time with business colleagues outside the comfort zone of IT. They need to get out more and understand the power map of the organisation and its culture, get involved in committees and understand that, to the rest of the firm, IT is below the waterline."

The Impact Programme works with the top three layers of IT management from each of its 80 corporate members.

Chris Young, Impact's managing director, said IT chiefs receive personal leadership development on the programme. "We give each member a customised programme to help them understand their issues and also the issues and values of their organisation. We then measure their effectiveness and compare it with CIOs from the FTSE 100."

At pre-CIO level, the focus is on grooming the attendees on the challenges they will face, such as the relationship with the chief executive and how to demonstrate the value of IT to the rest of the business.

For those wanting a more formal or academically-oriented induction into business culture, there is a wide range of course options depending on seniority, time and cost. The BCS course on business and management skills leads to a certificate from the Information Systems Examinations Board. It is designed, said the BCS, for new managers whose career development has been largely or exclusively in a technical environ-ment.

Business essentials such as balance sheets, proposals, negotiation skills and business planning are taught on the course, which lasts for one week and costs £2,000.

At a more senior level, the Cranfield School of Management's week-long Organisation and Politics for IT course runs four times a year and costs £2,500. Chris Edwards, professor of management information systems, said the course is aimed at the "heir apparent" who has just become second in command.

"We tell them they have got to where they are because they were, say, brilliant project managers, but the next step is different. Now it is all about politics. They have to recognise that, but it is hard to let go," said Edwards.

To break down that technology-oriented mindset, the course is based on case studies and role playing. Although one week's immersion can be very helpful, Edwards said, "It is not an overnight transition. It can take months for IT chiefs to assimilate the new skills they have learned into their job." To help with this, Cranfield offers post-course mentoring to provide guidance and advice on the job.

However, perhaps the classic method of becoming a bona-fide businessperson is to do an MBA.

"It is getting to the stage where it is a passport," said Edwards. "It can be difficult to become a senior person in business without one."

An MBA requires considerable financial commitment. Cranfield's full-time MBA course costs £24,000 and requires one year away from work. Part-time MBAs can be done in four blocks of two weeks for three years, or study for an executive MBA can be done in the evenings for two years.

At the pinnacle of the self-help agenda, those with at least 10 years' international career experience, 10 months to spare and more than £38,000 can take the London Business School's Sloan fellowship. This should put you on par with the likes of Lord Browne of BP and Hewlett-Packard's Carly Fiorina.

The course is not beyond the reach of CIOs, said Sloan programme manager Fiona LennoxSmith. About 9% of attendees have an IT job function and this year one was from the IT department of a large finance company.






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