Can traditional technology leaders make the transition to become hybrid managers?

In the Industrial Revolution, with its smoking chimney stacks and noisy steam engines, the impact of new technologies on the way people worked was obvious.

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In the Industrial Revolution, with its smoking chimney stacks and noisy steam engines, the impact of new technologies on the way people worked was obvious.

In the digital information revolution, however, the link between technology and working patterns is more subtle and often goes unnoticed.

IT is often seen as a mere tool that should be confined to the back office. As a consequence IT's role in shaping the future of organisations and the business world in general frequently goes unnoticed and its strategic role is often not appreciated.

Yet technology is now integrated into the heart of most organisations. One driving force taking IT to centre stage is its pervasive reach. Convergence of IT with traditionally technology-independent areas of running an organisation will have major implications for IT professionals and non-technical business managers alike.

Both groups need to understand and handle both sides of the equation in a more integrated fashion. All need to become what has sometimes been described as hybrid managers.

Indeed, the growth of consultancies can in part be attributed to the failure of IT professionals to develop more general skills and to effectively build the links between IT systems and business strategy.

Communication skills are important here. It is up to those who create and propose modern technologies to explain the potential and provide relevant examples in language that can be understood by non-experts.

How are organisations to innovate if the technologists do not explain the potential benefits to their non-technical colleagues in terms that they can understand and act on?

Better understanding of technology at board level may improve exploitation of new opportunities through technology and avoid pitfalls such as failure to understand the risks involved in using leading-edge technologies.

There needs to be a convergence of understanding between IT experts and non-experts so there can be constructive dialogue to drive value from new synergies bringing together the two domains of knowledge.

IT professionals must embrace the business application, be prepared to stand on the bridge between disciplines and get involved in the strategic business decisions.

Much of the innovation on which businesses increasingly rely for success and survival comes from the spaces between departments and disciplines.

In a truly integrated organisation the distinction between technical and non-technical areas should be almost indiscernible. This calls for a new skill set, including communication skills and understanding of a broader range of business issues. The IT professional needs to be both a technology specialist and a business generalist.

Most senior managers will accept the importance of strategic alignment of IT systems and business, yet very few act on it in practice. Most agree on what needs to be done and few on how it should be done.

Managers with strong IT knowledge and skills along with a strong understanding of business are at a premium. Technology for technology's sake is long gone.

IT is now more than just a tool: it is woven into the company fabric and has to be seen to deliver real value to stakeholders. It has to be business focused.

Much points to the need for fuller integration of IT in the business, from boardroom to back office. This inevitably calls for a broadening of the IT professional's role, which must include the ability to work closely with managers across the organis-ation and to contribute to their strategic thinking and decision making.

The IT manager should be more prominent and be able to walk organisational boundaries and influence the way IT systems are exploited in every part of the business.

The question is, can traditional IT managers make the transformation required?

Edward Truch is visiting professor at Lancaster University Management School and director of the Centre for Innovation Through IT

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