All too many IT directors have nothing but bruises to show for their attempts to break through the glass ceiling that separates them from the board. But now a new means of accessing the board is opening up.
E-commerce is putting the IT director in the hot seat like never before. Suddenly, the City is seeing a pot of gold at the end of the Internet rainbow, and has sent everyone running for it. It's sending shockwaves through the relationship between corporate IT and the business strategy.
"In the last year I've sensed a real identification of the opportunities that technology offers - really radical thinking and great ideas," enthuses Malcolm Lambel, head of IT at the Woolwich.
Lambel is exactly one of the rapidly evolving IT directors who are forging ahead in the new IT/business ecology of e-commerce. The City's enthusiasm, and therefore the board's enthusiasm for IT as the next big corporate differentiator, can't come soon enough for IT directors who have been beating the drum to what often seems an obdurately deaf audience.
"Technology no longer has to push," Lambel says.
It certainly doesn't have to at the Woolwich, whose chief executive, John Stewart, is, says Lambel "our key asset".
The Woolwich's enthusiasm for IT-led business change, on a scale of one to 10, says Lambel, "is 11 and a half". The company even has an executive director whose role is to oversee change management.
"It's pretty radical for an ex-building society," says Lambel.
With the Woolwich currently tipped, he says, by the City as the technology leader in its sector, Lambel is busy opening up the bank to the Internet, digital TV and mobile phone access. It's exhilarating stuff, being in the limelight, but, Lambel points out, just as tough as not being in it.
"It's tough working as an IT director who's got things he thinks can be done but has no forum to signal them. But it's equally tough when the expectations on you are higher," he admits.
To make it work, "the relationship between the head of IT and the chief executive is absolutely critical - there has to be trust and the chief executive has to understand enough about technology".
His relationship, he says, "is very accessible and an enthusiastic listener. He sounds too good to be true."