IT chiefs must network to keep business ahead

Many businesses do not appreciate the ability of IT to make or break competitive advantage, and getting chief executives to...

Many businesses do not appreciate the ability of IT to make or break competitive advantage, and getting chief executives to understand this is a key task for IT directors.

That is the advice George Cox, director general of the Institute of Directors, gave recently at a Black Raven conference for IT directors on the future of IT, supported by Computer Weekly.

Cox, founder of the Butler-Cox consultancy and former UK head of Unisys, said, "Although nobody doubts the criticality of IT to business operations, business does not fully understand the contribution IT can make to competitive advantage.

"You have to experience it. If you see your competition steal a march on you, you want to respond but you are unable to," he said.

"That is what happened to Liffe, the London futures market, when Deutsche Bourse, the Frankfurt stock exchange, implemented electronic trading. Liffe had to respond. It became a matter of life or death for them."

IT directors should be ahead of the game in alerting management, he said. It would help if directors thought and acted like business-people, rather than acting as heads of a business function, he said.

IT directors should be more like corporate lawyers, go to business conferences, get general management qualifications and not take slide presentations into board meetings.

IT directors should also get out more. "At general business events I see finance people, marketeers, and engineers but I do not see many IT people," Cox said.

"IT directors go to IT events. They should play more of a part of the business circuit. If you want to understand fish you have to go swimming with them.

"One of the greatest pressures on business right now is that it has to operate in an increasingly stringent regulatory environment. That puts a tremendous imposition on making reporting requirements more detailed and open.

"It means massive recordkeeping and IT people should be at the forefront of the debate, anticipating the requirements and being proactive about their impact on the business."

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