If you're good at your job, move on

Don't sit around once you've met the challenge of your current job - that is the message from Legal & General's e-business...

Don't sit around once you've met the challenge of your current job - that is the message from Legal & General's e-business director. Julia Vowler reports

Smart IT professionals shouldn't be in their job - they should be in their next one. That's the advice of Legal & General's Margaret Smith - and it's advice she's taken to heart. She's now the insurer's e-business director, busy leading the company into the brave new world of doing business the e-way.

It's not that she's down on IT professionals. Far from it. She used to be one, cutting Assembler with the best of them. From there she rose, eventually, to become IT director at L&G.

After a good stint she decided she'd done what she'd come to do, and asked for a change. She got it - learning business process re-engineering the hands-on way by examining how L&G could change its business model when it came to selling insurance.

Then the era of direct insurance arrived. Smith tackled it, discovering the world of consumer market research along the way. She also tackled the tricky task of ensuring that selling direct did not cannibalise existing channels - a useful lesson for being e-business director now - with the result that direct sales are now nearly 20% of the business.

In 1997 L&G discovered the e-word, and Smith was off again with another new job. But she doesn't intend to stick to it for too long.

"If I'm still here in a year I'll have failed," she says.

By then, she argues, e-business should have become pervasive through business, and no longer require a specialist director. The value of e-business will be exploited everywhere in the company.

It's her key message for all IT professionals. Far too many IT professionals fail to appreciate the real way they can best add value. Because value, Smith says, changes with time, as technology and business changes.

IT people, she says, should ask what value they are adding to the firm instead of saying to themselves, "Thank God, I'm still in my job."

At L&G, says Smith, they are measured in the City by the value thay add to the coffers. "I ask myself whether I'm adding enough value or should it be scattered in other people's jobs. "It's the biggest challenge to IT directors - if your value [to your employer] is still the same as it was two, four or even six years ago, I'd hazard you're not particularly happy."

Technology changes so fast that it alters all the established rules every time. Smith can remember having to make out a laborious business case for calculators. Specialist skills erode very quickly.

The problem is that IT people feel threatened as non-IT people "invade" their territory and become every more computer-literate. It's happening all over again with e-business, says Smith, but IT should hand it over as fast as they can get rid of it, and go on to something new themselves, whatever the next technology wave is.

"You have to throw away your old skills base and move up," she urges. "There are always new things to discover."

Margaret Smith was speaking at last week's Computer Weekly 500 club meeting on optimising the relationship between IT, business and e-business in organisations

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