Behind closed doors: the fight for IT's future

In the first of six monthly articles, one of the UK's leading interim IT managers explains how managing your department more...

In the first of six monthly articles, one of the UK's leading interim IT managers explains how managing your department more effectively will raise both the IT organisation's and your own profile within the enterprise.

"IT is hard, bloody hard and we are bloody good at IT."
Forgive my forceful opening remark, but this is the message we need to get across to justify our burgeoning budgets and, indeed, our very existence. If you want another article about touchy-feely management topics, you'd better look somewhere else. You're wasting your time here.
This column intends to tackle the hard substance of practical, day-to-day IT management - written by someone who knows. As an interim executive it's my job to ensure an IT department is being run effectively. I am more likely to be concerned with subjects like transaction processing and systems analysis; skills which may have been unfashionable for a while but are now seen as fundamental to the success of e-business fulfillment.
So let's cut to the chase - you're a busy person, after all. But that's the point: we're all incredibly busy these days and getting busier by the month. Ever stopped to consider why?
Sure, the pace of technology change has something to do with it as does the post Y2K log jam.
But let's turn the question inwards. Privately, among ourselves, we must admit that there is a fundamental reason for our increasingly high workload. Quite bluntly, much of our work load is self-inflicted because we are not always very good at being managers.
This is especially true of the many technicians who have fallen, knowingly or unknowingly, into management. (A former colleague, responsible for a very large department
"Much of our workload is self-inflicted because we are not always very good at being managers."
Colin Beveridge
in a FTSE 100 company, always regarded himself as "just another man with a screwdriver, at heart". I admired his honesty in admitting his good fortune.)
Ours is a relatively immature business function that continues to grow exponentially, creating more and more management opportunities, but we don't have the benefit of a heritage of perceived wisdom and best practice available to more mature professions. As a result, we are all prone to make mistakes and business decisions that we later regret.
The trick, of course, is not to repeat our mistakes but to learn from our experience and to improve our performance in the future. Our profession does seem to be particularly reluctant to share and learn from common experience.
It never ceases to amaze me when I find how often as individuals we believe that we need to re-invent the wheels of management. This may eventually disappear with growing individual and functional maturity. Then again, I'm not so sure.
Unless we tackle this matter with the seriousness that it deserves, we will continue to muddle along as we do now, each of us putting our personal and collective commercial credibility at risk as we try to arrive independently at a resolution others have already successfully reached.
I move from company to company regularly. This allows me to become exposed to a broad spectrum of management cultures. Obviously, no two IT shops are identical, even within the same company. Nevertheless, during my travels I have come across the same set of problems confronting different companies. Most of these could have been avoided, or at least dealt with, by an awareness and appreciation of how others elsewhere had tackled them in the past.
That is my motivation in writing Behind Closed Doors. I want to create a series of hard-hitting articles about the real management issues, problems and challenges that many of us face on a daily basis, drawing on my own direct experience as a front-line participant in a variety of blue-chip organisations. I am not an industry analyst, or a consultant, watching from the sidelines. I have walked the walk.
I can say what others may be thinking but, because of personal or corporate constraints, are reluctant, or unable, to say. This gives me a very strong advantage when it comes to plain-speaking and exploring ways of improving our collective management skills. I want to promote awareness and discussion of common challenges, without compromising commercial confidences.
That is why I hope that you, the busy professional, will take the time to read Behind Closed Doors.
I intend to examine our business fundamentals, such as organisation, process and relationship management, with a touch of strategic direction from time to time to counter-balance the routine fire-fighting discussions.
Next month, Behind Closed Doors kicks off by posing the question: Software licence compliance, do you welcome or fear the knock at the door?
Every company has to meet its legal and contractual obligations but now it's not just our software vendors that we have to satisfy, other bodies are muscling in on the action. I will share with you how I have dealt with enquiries from two such bodies.
Colin Beveridge is an interim executive who has held top-level roles in IT strategy, development, services and support. His travels along the blue-chip highway have taken him to a clutch of leading corporations, such as Shell, British Petroleum, ICI, DHL and PowerGen.

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