The judges have agreed on the finalists for this year’s British Computer Society IT Professional Awards and several common themes are evident across the entries, reflecting trends in the IT industry.
Stuart Ward, who chaired the business achievement awards judging panel, identified a strong business vision among the finalists, or medallists as they are known to the BCS. "It is impressive to see that their IT strategies have in some cases changed the way management runs their business," he said.
City law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner set itself an aggressive five-year business strategy for growth. The IT department would not only support this strategy but drive it as well.
"Winning clients depends on being able to offer better service or more innovative ways of delivering those services. Winning more work from existing clients requires us to come up with ways to do things better or more efficiently," said Janet Day, IT director for the law firm and medallist for this year’s IT Director (Large Organisations) Award.
The IT department’s objectives included system uptime in excess of 99.9% and revenue generation directly attributable to the client use of the firm’s IT systems. At the same time, the firm sought to reduce the costs of its IT services without diminishing service levels through using voice over IP and power over UTP. These technologies reduced infrastructure costs by 30%.
"Achieving revenue from IT services was one of the most significant achievements for our department. Now we appear as both a profit centre and cost centre on the finance system," said Day.
This year, the people issue emerged as an important factor in the successful implementation of an IT strategy.
"The most crucial leadership quality is confidence in the face of uncertainty," said Michael Mainelli, founding director of management consultancy Z/Yen, which is a medallist for the IT Director (SME) Award 2004. "As team leader my role is to be ‘the rock’. An IT director has to continue to lead the team with the confidence that everything will be all right on the night."
This view is shared by Day. "The ability to motivate people to work harder, faster and better is paramount," she said.
Keeping the team focused on objectives is a challenge, according to Martin Yates, managing director in Deutsche Bank’s group technology and operations division and medallist for this year’s IT Director (Large Organisations) Award. "One issue is maintaining momentum since our work is deadline-based and energy-intensive," he said.
Various methods are used at the bank to inject energy and focus. "Our highly evolved university recruiting strategy rotates new graduates through two positions over 18 months. Recruiting top students with well-rounded skill sets also brings new ideas to the team," Yates said.
A tactic common to the medallists is organising team days to sustain momentum. Deutsche Bank senior managers are invited to team days in London, New York and Singapore to explain how the team had directly benefited the bottom line.
For the 2004 awards the IT director category was split into two because the judges felt that the challenges faced by IT directors in large and small organisations deserved commendation.
Michael Kearsley, who headed the judges of the Individual Excellence Awards, said, "An IT director at a large corporate faces very different challenges to that of an IT director of a smaller firm. Smaller companies have to be resourceful and creative in managing their IT strategy and the dev- elopment of customer services."
Z/Yen has 25 staff and is an intense user of technology even though its IT budget is limited. "The key to getting around restrictive budgets is threefold. First, there is teamwork, with consensus building and contribution sought widely from the team. Second is flexible project management and, third, you need to be savvy about hunting resources," said Mainelli.
"An IT director at a large organisation often enjoys the advantage of greater IT resources and budgets compared to a peer working for a smaller organisation," said Richard Lloyd, director of IT recruitment at Robert Walters. "However, with this come greater pressures surrounding strategy, resourcing and managing the board’s expectations."
This is why developing a close relationship and rapport with the management is a top objective. Yates said, "Stakeholder confidence has played a key role in achieving our objectives. I have a solid relationship with the equity business divisional heads who provide our funding. In fact, I have made it an objective to exceed their expectations."
Day said developing and maintaining credibility with management is fundamental to success. "If you want to change the mindset of internal users and clients you have to develop a sales capability. In order to gain respect and buy-in, it is essential to be able to pitch confidently and fluently to senior and influential clients and at the board table.
"We work hard to raise the profile of the IT department within the firm and with the outside market. Our efforts speak for themselves: as the lawyers become more aware of our capabilities and services, they become confident about selling those services to clients."
This year’s medallists understand that technology innovation can and does transform business practices and introduce opportunities. However, it is not just about reducing costs.
According to Andrew Bell, PricewaterhouseCooper’s technology leader, "The IT industry is evolving at an unprecedented pace. Developments bring new opportunities and act as a springboard for new success and business practices."
Day agreed, "Using VoIP and power over UTP has required us to rethink how we integrate voice and data throughout the firm," she said. "In fact the benefit has been wider than just cost; closer integration of voice and data has allowed the lawyers to have information about incoming callers at their fingertips."
The BCS IT Professional Awards 2004 ceremony will take place on the night of Tuesday 19 October at the Hilton Park Lane, London.
For more information and a complete list of medallists, visit www.bcs.org/awards/professional
The BCS IT Professional Awards
The BCS IT Professional Awards celebrate excellence, professionalism and innovation among UK IT companies. The awards recognise the contribution of businesses and the individuals within them to Britain’s economic prosperity, business efficiency and public services.
The awards are comprised of four categories: Business Achievement, Technology, Individual Awards and Women in IT.
New this year, the Women in IT Award recognises UK companies that are promoting opportunities for women to take leadership roles within the IT industry.
The judging process is undertaken by panels of qualified, respected senior IT professionals. Winners will be announced at a black tie dinner to be held at London’s Hilton Park Lane at 6.30pm on Tuesday 19 October.