IT leaders urged to drop victim mentality and embrace challenges of a changing role

Business guru David Taylor predicts the demise of the traditional IT director

IT directors should stop thinking of themselves as "victims" in the corporate hierarchy and prepare for the extinction of their traditional role at a board level.

These are among the controversial views of management guru and author David Taylor, revealed in an interview with Computer Weekly.

In a series of columns, starting later this month, Taylor will outline the key skills IT directors need to progress to the boardroom. The columns are based on discussions with more than 300 business and IT leaders.

His managerial blueprint comes at a time when IT departments are grappling with the demands of corporate financial regulations and pressure to demonstrate the value of IT investment to sceptical boards.

Taylor will argue that a persuasive personality is more important than having an in-depth knowledge of technology for ambitious IT directors who want to gain a seat on the board.

"Chief executives at medium and large companies are keen to have a full-time IT director who is a business person, who understands things like finance, marketing and is not a techie," said Taylor, who is president of IT directors' organisation Certus and author of bestselling management book The Naked Leader.

"When IT directors are looking to make that big step up to the board, the greatest irony is that their technology training does not matter one hoot. The chief executive is just interested in their personality and their passion."

To advance within an organisation, IT directors need to build a network of contacts and develop their leadership skills, said Taylor.

But many IT directors and their departments suffer from low self-esteem, according to Taylor, who blends traditional management theory with the self-improvement zeal of US motivational gurus.

"IT directors and IT departments always have a victim status. We spend a lot of time apologising and other departments lay into us. The status of IT departments is only slightly above politicians," he said.

But what does the future hold for the role of IT director? Taylor believes the position of IT director on the company board will be taken over by a director who is responsible for business operations.

"I believe that within five years there will be no specific IT director role on the board," said Taylor. "In enlightened companies there will be a director responsible for all processes and operations within an organisation, ensuring areas such as customer services are delivered and enhanced. The role will also involve overseeing a lot of administration and supply chain management."

On the plus side for IT directors, Taylor said they are well-placed to fill this new role.

IT heads have often been urged by experts to avoid technical jargon and clunky acronyms when discussing technology with the board. Taylor said the term service level agreement (SLA) should be added to the list of phrases to avoid.

"There is a very effective way to see if the term SLA works. Imagine if your partner cooks you dinner and you say it is 'satisfactory' or that it 'met expectations'. Can you imagine your partner's reaction?"

This was last published in February 2005

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