CIO interview: Alastair Behenna, technology director, Telecity Group

Alastair Behenna, technology director at datacentre specialist Telecity Group and former CIO at recruitment firm Harvey Nash, talks about the UK skills shortage and challenges for the future.

Alastair Behenna, technology director at datacentre specialist Telecity Group and former CIO at recruitment firm Harvey Nash, talks to Angelica Mari about his move to a supplier organisation, his view on the UK skills shortage and challenges for the future.

What motivated you to move to a supplier role?

It was definitely time for a change and to have the opportunity to work with a datacentre operator of this degree of scale and expertise was both good timing and downright good fortune.

I'm not sure I would consider this entirely a move to the sell-side as my previous employer was a service supplier to the industry as well but definitely not in a technical sense. That's what is really refreshing about working at Telecity; it's a highly professional business that profits, directly, from technical excellence and expertise.

What are the main differences, from a leadership perspective, in working for an IT supplier as opposed to an IT buyer?

I think the leadership challenges are the same everywhere. It's all about getting the best out of your people while providing them with both opportunities to grow and reasons to want to do the job they do to the best of their abilities.

If anything, the internal customers in a technical supplier organisation are more demanding and more inclined to challenge IT to deliver services they can respect and utilise effectively, and these change more rapidly in response to external customer demands than enterprise standards sometimes accommodate. But that's kind of exciting too.

Do you think you may have gone through a one-way turnstile in terms of moving over to the "dark side", or is this about gaining knowledge of how things work at a supplier with a view of moving back to a user organisation in future?

Not at all. It's all grist to the mill and no practical experience is wasted, in my view. I'm still a buyer of services and products and with an even greater exposure to third-party supplier contracts and other useful circumstances.

I have no plans to move back to a user firm in the short term. I'd be far more inclined to work for myself than for anyone else having lived on both sides of the fence.

Do you think that future IT opportunities for young talent will lie on the supplier side, since in-house IT teams at user organisations are shrinking?

I do think there are huge opportunities for young talent on the supplier side particularly once the lemming-like drive to outsource everything overseas begins to abate, as we are not growing enough talent locally and this is really noticeable right now.

The supplier side is where innovation is nurtured and valued and we really need to get some excitement and opportunity back into IT careers. And given where we are today with technology, the opportunities for smart, dedicated IT talent are boundless.

Is it difficult to find the IT talent that you need?

This is definitely an issue and an ongoing source of concern to me. I have a number of open vacancies and am struggling to fill them. I have been through hundreds of CVs, done numerous interviews but nothing has gelled so far - particularly with analysts, architects and project managers.

What are the main challenges of your job and how are you planning to handle them?

The main challenge I face is balancing the expectations of a dynamic and rapidly growing organisation against a limited human resource - something many of us contend with daily and there are no easy answers.

When joining an organisation, how do you deal with inherited choices around technology or team structure - choices that you would not necessarily have made?

You just do. In the short term you live with it and flex where you can. In the medium term you create a strategy for what you see to be the right path and begin to sell that in to the organisation through a multi-stranded approach of presentations, proofs of concept etc.

In the long term - and provided your ideas stack up - you implement according to your vision. It's a marathon and not a sprint.

What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

Actually, and without trying to sound too trite or specious, it's about watching the people you manage and the situations you've orchestrated begin to find form and purpose in their own right.

Read Alastair Behenna's guest posts at Computer Weekly's Management Matters blog>>

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