Shifting business demands place burden on IT

Dealing with shifting business demands will be the biggest challenge for UK IT directors over the next 12 months, according to a...

Dealing with shifting business demands will be the biggest challenge for UK IT directors over the next 12 months, according to a survey of IT directors.

The findings, from a survey conducted in June of 240 senior IT directors attending the IT Directors' Forum, reflect a growing preoccupation among IT leaders. They revealed that IT departments have come under pressure to respond more quickly to demands from business users, suppliers and industry regulators.

In a £2.4bn deal BT sold its property portfolio and transferred 400 staff to a newly-created independent company, Telereal, early in 2002. At the time incoming information systems director Adam Burstow had two years to move the IT systems of BT's property portfolio on to systems used by Telereal.

At a Computer Weekly 500 Club meeting of IT directors earlier this year, Burstow revealed what he had learned from the experience. Start the work on IT systems and integration as soon as possible, he recommended.

"For the first six to nine months I focused on keeping 'business as usual' going, and rolling out some small applications, but I did not do much to the systems," he said.

"Although we got everything done on time and to budget, it is vital to start as soon as possible to avoid a rush at the end. We had to re-platform every desktop, laptop, business application and IT security system."

Burstow urged IT managers to keep close to the business by developing the right board-level relationships and reporting lines.

"It was very useful for me to be on the executive committee and have good relationships with the chief executives, chief operating officer and the other directors. It positioned me to be able to deal with issues as they emerged," he said.

"We also put in a lot of effort to maintain good relationships with our external customers, primarily BT, who always knew what we were doing and were happy with progress. We also had good relationships with all our internal user groups, who always knew how they were gong to be affected by the change programme."

Burstow advised taking a flexible approach to the targets you set. "It is important not to over-plan and to be too mechanistic in your approach," he said.

"Be careful about setting annual objectives, as they could well be irrelevant by the end of the year. It is better to set quarterly objectives so that you can remain flexible and responsive.

"To further improve communications I have set up an IS steering committee with four key executive committee members on it, and I took on an IT strategic adviser, a senior former IT director."

Burstow emphasised the need to communicate IT strategy effectively. "Do not overburden the business with a 50-page IT strategy document. I have a one-page version which is on the intranet and is available to everyone," he said."I also have a direct report whose job is IT communications manager. It costs 1% of my IT budget to communicate what we do in IT, but it is a very good investment."

Keep the momentum going after the project is finished, Burstow advised. "With the infrastructure in place there was an immediate torrent of opportunities for new applications," he said.

Read more on IT risk management