In IT, perception is reality. We are judged far more by what people think we do than by what we really do.
While this may be frustrating, it could be turned to our advantage, by working personal relationships at every level, by actively promoting what we do at every opportunity, and by not washing our dirty linen in public.
One of our people will openly criticise the latest strategy decision, while another will tell their business colleague "privately" that the latest initiative to improve service is "a waste of time". Or, after the difficult decision is made to go with a particular operating system, groups of people loyal to, and trained in, the unsuccessful alternative will declare civil war.
This is how IT departments become disparate groups working in different directions. In this environment IT leaders will have great difficulty implementing standardisation, technical strategy and direction. Disunity can often create inaction and distraction.
There is so much choice in our industry. Suppliers compete with one another to offer the different solutions that will resolve all of our problems and save us so much money. IT leaders, core to their organisations' future, have to move like lightning just to stand still, and there seems to be too little time to discuss any decision, let alone make one.
If uncertainty reigns at the leadership level, imagine how the department feels, kept in the dark as most are, often hearing key decisions on a need-to-know or have-you-heard basis.
The greatest decision-making power lies deep within every IT department. People at the front line will have an opinion on the best way forward, and they should be heard. This can be achieved through open forums, at team meetings or through some other vehicle. However it is done, it is important that all views are expressed openly and without fear. It need not take long.
Once the decision is made, you must get everyone in the department to buy in to the new strategy. Unity of purpose and direction is the most elusive, yet one of the most powerful ways forward for IT departments.
If people are genuinely listened to, and healthy internal debates are allowed to thrive within an open, no-blame culture, they are happy to go along with whatever decision is made. It is when decisions are made in secret, or where the decision-making process is unclear, that problems arise. And disharmony is the result.
IT departments need to become a sort of autocratic democracy. Once a direction or policy is chosen, everyone will buy into it. Collective responsibility puts the IT department in a very strong position in such crucial areas as choice of operating system, standardisation and taming the total cost of ownership.
Decisions must be clear and communicated. This will provide both a uniform understanding within the IT department and a collective approach to business customers.
Many IT departments delay taking action on the future because of differing internal opinions, politics and pressure groups. This can have a devastating effect on IT service, costs and futures, and has to be addressed as a core requirement to having a future, let alone shaping one.
David Taylor is president of IT directors group NCC-Certus