In many organisations public, private or third sector, it is no longer "business as usual".
The almost unprecedented scale of public sector budget cuts, necessary to bring government finances back towards balance, feed through to all areas of the economy.
Whether it is the need to cope with slashed revenues or to cut costs in the face of intense competition, radical change will be required. It is often no longer sufficient to shave a few percentage points off budgets across the board, new approaches will be required along the lines of: "work smarter, not harder".
What can BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, bring to this challenge?
A leading role for IT?
As organisations look at major change in the way they work, IT professionals need to be at the heart of that strategic thinking. Whether it is the extended use of mobile working or dramatic decentralisation, IT professionals have an essential contribution to make.
Within the IT function, key decisions will need to be made on whether it is more attractive to move to the low fixed-cost approach of cloud computing or whether the importance of in-house control still outweighs the additional capital costs.
This is the time for IT professionals to show how not to repeat the mistakes of the past. The ground rules are clear. Sadly, while often understood, they are not always followed:
• Budget for the totality of the business change. Typically, the people elements of change - such as internal communications, training, re-designing performance measurement and pay systems, opportunity costs, etc - will cost four times the direct costs of the IT change.
• Provide committed leadership from the top. If the board is not convinced of the need for change and fully aligned behind it, then nobody else will be. Leadership must come from the chief executive or equivalent.
• Make it quick. Change programmes have a very short shelf-life. Programmes must show early and unambiguous returns or they will quickly lose credibility.
• Confront the opposition. There will always be those within an organisation who will oppose change. Some on principle and some because internal communication has not been fully successful in explaining the reasons. Seek this out and meet it head on.
• Own the change. Change is challenging. It needs the best people to drive it, not simply those that can be spared. This represents a major opportunity cost. While consultants can help, they do not provide ownership and they must not lead.
• Ruthless focus. If you don't know where you are going, the journey might be interesting but it won't be productive. The goals must be clearly defined in advance and a credible plan to demonstrably realise the benefits must be in place.
BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, driving forward professionalism
My year as BCS President started on 16 March 2011. I have a number of objectives for my term, including helping the BCS Academy of Computing to argue for major curriculum reform in our schools to ensure not only that our children are fully computer literate and capable of using the great tool of "computational thinking" - the fourth "R" - but also those interested more deeply in computer science are separately helped and encouraged. That represents planning for the economic long term.
In the short term, I want to see BCS at the forefront in promoting the role of professional IT in our economic recovery. BCS has pioneered the "current competence" approach in its new Chartered IT Professional (CITP) status. CITPs on the current competence register have demonstrated both the breadth of knowledge to understand the challenges across the totality of IT and also in-depth knowledge in one or more IT specialisms. Our CITPs stand ready in their organisations to demonstrate the exceptional, and this time successful, impact that professionally managed, IT-enabled business change can bring.
Professor Jim Norton is president of BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT