What concerns the modern IT director?

What's on the IT director's mind? Staff retention, developing and controlling e-business strategies and keeping up with...

What's on the IT director's mind? Staff retention, developing and controlling e-business strategies and keeping up with technological change

E-commerce emerged, predictably enough, as the primary concern amongst the UK's IT directorate, at last week's Harvey Nash Business Breakfast Meeting in London, writes Mark Lewis.

The seven IT directors present, representing the finance, retail, publishing and public sectors, isolated four key areas of concern in the e-enabled world.

The first was staff retention. Opinion was divided over whether the rise of e-commerce was leading to an IT braindrain. Various solutions to the e-skills shortage emerged. One delegate advocated shifting one's focus from the sourcing of skills to the sourcing of people, by establishing a graduate intake scheme and training in-house.

When one delegate reported having "entirely different teams who do our Web development", others declared this policy a potentially damaging one.

Most agreed that having a multi-skilled team was crucial and that compartmentalising staff members was a dangerous game. "If you don't provide someone with some kind of vision of where they are going," said one, "they will leave."

The second key concern identified was the cultural and managerial problem of transforming your legacy IS function into an e-commerce unit. It's hard to maintain focus on a new area of the business, said one IT chief, "when you've got so much legacy stuff that needs to continue to work".

Outsourcing was discussed as a possible solution. However, there was a concern that, in these pioneering days of e-business, you might become more a guinea pig than customer.

As for the ownership of e-business, there was a general consensus that business managers must own it, with an eye to the bottom line. However, delegates stressed how important it was that the IT department own the technology part of an e-business solution, and set all the necessary standards.

One delegate takes senior and middle managers on tours of his IT infrastructure, stressing its complexity at every turn, to stop them dabbling with the technology element of his organisation's e-business drive.

The final concern was that of keeping up with the pace of technological change in e-business. Indeed, one delegate reported that his corporate Web site is based on technology that is no longer sustainable.

All were for keeping up, or even ahead of, the competition by taking advice from suppliers and consultants.

Hearteningly, another answer was to keep abreast of the IT press. "A cuttings file is essential in the armoury of a senior IT manager", said one enlightened delegate.

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