Inside info on what CEOs want

Top UK chief executives offer insights into framing your IT business case for board approval at the British Chambers of Commerce...

Top UK chief executives offer insights into framing your IT business case for board approval at the British Chambers of Commerce conference.

There is hope at hand for all IT user managers who are under pressure to achieve better results with reduced resources. Flamboyant Royal Mail chairman Allan Leighton stresses that true productivity does not come from "more for less" but from "more from the same".

That was one of the points made by a panel of chief executives at the recent British Chambers of Commerce annual conference in a session about tackling the productivity challenge. It gave an insight into the chief executive's perspective for IT managers wanting to frame a business case to their boards.

The group talked in high-level bullet points and used simple concepts, backed up with metaphors, to produce well-structured, clear and easily understood messages.

From their "helicopter" view they all agreed that the main challenges to boosting productivity are attitudes to change combined with cultural and people issues. Above all they stressed effectiveness, rather than speed, of change.

For those in large companies, expect a business change to take about 10 years for full assimilation, according to Leighton. Gaining productivity is an incremental journey, not a leap, he said. So, for example, improving real productivity is not about job cuts, but about eliminating the work first, before taking the job out. Otherwise overload will cancel out any short-term productivity gains.

Finally, he said, even if you change all the processes in a business it will not work unless the culture within the company adopts the changes.

When approaching the board, IT managers could take note of two business principles adopted by Sir Gulam Noon, chairman of fast-food supplier Noon Products. His recipe to build productivity is to obtain the latest technology when buying capital equipment, but then to maximise its use. As for people, he employs asylum-seekers because they are highly motivated.

Stephen Cronin, managing director of Xerox UK, reckoned that productivity is an operational issue. It comes from having an aligned organisation, front-end accountability, and no skills gap.

Putting their case in contexts like this will help IT directors improve their effectiveness with boards. But they do get sympathy from CEOs. In Cronin's words, "Who would be a middle manager today, what with the legislation and pressures they have?"

High-flyers are us

Meeting senior business managers from across sectors in a non-competitive, relaxed environment is a sure way for aspiring IT managers to hone their board-level communication skills. Three pan-industry groups are jostling to provide good networking opportunities at this level through their regional and national meetings. Many of these are open to non-members.

It is worth checking out events run by the British Chambers of Commerce, the CBI and the Institute of Directors. All three lobby extensively at national level and welcome input from IT users.

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