IT needs a new breed of leader

It is self-evident that IT directors need strong business skills if they hope to join their business colleagues on the board.

It is self-evident that IT directors need strong business skills if they hope to join their business colleagues on the board.

It is less obvious that anyone with aspirations to rise to the level of IT director must start to hone their business expertise from the start of their IT career. As our feature on p34 makes clear, organisations are increasingly looking well beyond the IT department for the individuals who will take charge of their IT needs.

That may be galling for those who see technology as the be-all-and-end-all, but it is hardly surprising now that IT has expanded out of the back office and into the vanguard of commercial operations for many companies.

Then there is the burgeoning legislation on information; productivity and cost pressures; more complex employment laws; staff demands for a more satisfactory work-life balance; and, of course, the growth of outsourcing.

It is increasingly apparent that the modern and future IT director or CIO must be a wondrous and many-headed beast. At one and the same time, they need to be technologist, business leader, lawyer, negotiator, contract manager, communicator and HR expert.

With such a daunting profile, it is hardly surprising that there are many for whom the rewards on offer do not seem worth the candle. Our article cites an informal survey of 60 IT managers at Legal & General which showed that only five hoped to become an IT director.

It would be regrettable if IT leadership were to pass exclusively to those with no experience at the IT coalface. We have already seen the inefficiencies and resentments caused in the education and health sectors by a division between expert practitioners and managers seen as "brought in from outside".

Whether an organisation's IT operations are inhouse or outsourced, the ability to communicate with authority in terms of both business and technology is vital.

An appropriate level of understanding of the capabilities and opportunities of technology is not something that can be picked up on the hoof by a career business executive.

But equally a practical understanding of business is not something that can be tacked on in the later stages of an IT specialist's career.

The challenge for the IT community is to create a new breed of IT professional equally at ease with technology and business issues to provide a real lead for their organisations in meeting the present and future demands of the information society.

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