IT is a business within a business

The role of IT director has changed, and meeting the challenge requires good general management skills.

The role of IT director has changed, and meeting the challenge requires good general management skills.

For most IT directors, the role has changed a great deal in the past five years. In 1997, when I joined Capital One, I not only designed IT projects and presented them to the board for approval, I was also instrumental in making them happen, writes Peter Knight.

We had no more than four projects running concurrently, whereas today we have more than 100 spanning areas as diverse as call centre management, datawarehousing and e-commerce.

Today, a large part of my role is to find and empower the right people to run projects for me and keep them moving in the right direction. Working with the business, I define our goals and try to communicate these clearly.

In 1998 we had about 20 people. Today the IT team is more than 300 strong. The remit has grown massively but I suspect that many senior IT directors in financial services have faced similar challenges.

I could not possibly micro-manage each of these projects even if I wanted to.

I must trust and support others to do this while I concentrate on ensuring that these projects are still appropriate for the business, that they are being run according to prescribed plans and that the department as a whole is running well.

Inevitably, there are multiple dependencies between projects and it is important that they do not fall short of expectations.

I am now a people manager, financial controller, project orchestrator and risk manager rolled into one.

I feel like general manager of a business within Capital One. If one element of the management mix is missing, others will be undermined. Getting the people element right is probably the key issue for me, and the whole company takes it seriously.

General management also involves being able to lead by example. IT directors everywhere need to recognise that they set the tone for their whole department. If they communicate poorly with their managers, for example, it would not be surprising if these same managers fail to communicate well with their own teams.

Increasingly, my role is to understand what the diverse components of the business need and to use technology as the enabler as efficiently as possible. I spend a great deal of time talking to Capital One's chief information officer about the plans and the chief executive and finance director about the next steps for driving the business forward.

Aspiring IT directors need to get the people management issues right and spend time with their teams to appreciate the pressures that they face.

They should try to communicate honestly and directly at all times, especially over performance issues. Reward good performance, celebrate key milestones and successes, and try to get the whole team together outside work to enjoy themselves on a regular basis.

Be a partner of the business, enabling its development not merely supporting it; win confidence and credibility by delivering on time and to budget; think about the future - ensure that the developments that IT is responsible for are moving in the right direction. Think what the business might look like in a few years time and build with that in mind.

Finally, recognise that it is up to you to create the sort of environment that people want to work in. If you can achieve the right balance, people will be motivated to achieve amazing results.

Read more on IT strategy