CW500 Interview: David Chan on the changing role of the IT leader

The IT department is changing as the use of outsourcing and external providers grows, and the traditional IT career routes are disappearing. Similarly, the skills required of a CIO are evolving as technology changes. What will the IT department of the future look like, and what skills will IT leaders need to be successful?


Computer Weekly editor in chief Bryan Glick talked to David Chan, director of the Centre for Information Leadership at City University London, about the changing role of the IT leader.

Read the full transcript from this video below:  

CW500 Interview: David Chan on the changing role of the IT leader

Bryan Glick: Hello. Welcome to the CW500 club. Tonight I am
here with David Chan, the director of the Centre for Information
Leadership at City University, London. David has been talking to
our audience of CIOs and IT leaders about the future of IT leadership.
David, thank you very much for coming along to CW500 today.

David Chan: My pleasure.

Bryan Glick: First question to you, to just have a look back at some
of the topics you have been talking about. Why do you think we are
still talking about the relevance of the IT leadership role? We are
looking at things like outsourcing and Cloud computing, where more
and more of the function is being outsourced. What does IT leadership
mean today?

David Chan: I think, for me, I prefer not to use the term IT because the
technology becomes the less of the proportion. I prefer the term 'information
leader', because if you look at any enterprise, and I call an enterprise a private
organization, a commercial organization or even public sector, information is
key, absolutely key for everything. You cannot imagine doing anything without
having access to information. I have an Apple iPhone, and I am always on there
looking for information, being fed information.  Local authorities are using information
systems to re engineer the way they interact with customers. Over the next five
years, the government relies upon information and transformation to deliver
public services at lower cost. Indeed, what do we do? I am going to see a film this
Saturday. I am not going to go to the cinema and buy the ticket; I am going to do
it online. Information pervades, and information becomes very, very important.
For me, it is not so much the information technology that is important, it is what
enterprises use information for, and to allow enterprises to more effectively
deliver the services or the goods to the public, for its specified purpose and that
will not change. Even if that is outsourced to cloud providers or even to third
parties outside the organization, the enterprise still needs somebody, probably
at the very, very high level, maybe even as part of the senior management team,
who actually knows about this stuff, who can actually advise and who actually
represents that on the board. No major organization would contemplate running
a management team with a finance sector director. I would like to see that, in the
future, people will not consider running an organization without having a Chief
Information Officer onboard. I think that is quite important, because information is
all pervasive.

Bryan Glick: You acknowledged in your answer there, David, that the role of the
IT leader, the information leader, is changing, as the role has always changed as
technology has changed. What is going to be so different about the IT leader of
the future then, looking forward? How can you see that role changing further over
the coming years?

David Chan: I think, as I said before, we have recognized since the ‘60s, the role
of the information leader, that is the name I am calling it now, has evolved from
Computer Branch Head, Head of EDP, IT Director to IS Director, CIO, et cetera.
I actually see that in the future, there is a growing opportunity for somebody on
the C-level suite to take charge of enhancing the capability of the organization.
People in the IT sphere, whether they are business change program managers
or business change specialists, have got the key skills to do that, but it means
that the IT Director, or the CIO, or who I call now the Information Leader, has
to extend his skill set. Clearly, you still have the stewardship role, you still have
to make sure that the services that you are running are delivered on time, in
addition to that, you should have the skills and the capability, the political
savvy, the business understanding to actually enroll the rest of the board
and the organization into the changes that could actually improve the
effect of the organization. I transform the way things are within the enterprise.
It is not about the technology, it is about understanding how you knit everything
together, from what is external, what the legal requirements are, from managing
the third parties. I think somebody needs to do that.

The other major advantage for the in-house person doing it is because things
are changing so fast, and I had talked about that in my talk about the span of
foresight, foreshortening. Therefore, you do need somebody in-house,
because the decisions, you used to be to hire a consultant, ABMG or PWC, to
do a strategy, work it for five years, then they come back and do it again; it is
changing so fast that you cannot do it. Somebody in-house has got to be thinking
about it all the time and look for the opportunity, making sure the execution is
done, making sure that the projects are managed well and the programs and
changes are delivered. Finally, I think it is very, very important for the information
leadership community to have a view and express their opinion on things that
are happening socially. For example, when we talked about the Digital Britain
Bill that was going through, that was being rushed through parliament, how
many CIOs spoke out about it? They might have agreed the Transformation
Agenda, but the stuff about the file sharing, how many CIOs said anything
about that? For me, I do not profess to say one side is right or the other side
is right, but there are other models of making money, apart from the one that
is advocated by the media industry, but nobody is speaking out. We as a
community have to get into that. Therefore, I see a much more expanded skill
set; the guys have to be a lot more politically savvy within the organization. I think
you got to be a lot more widely read, widely educated around the fringes, so you
cannot just be a technologist and you got to be savvy and street smart. I think the
key of it all is what I call situational leadership. It is like in the old Holland days, in the
1980s, Kirov’s Team, you play in flexible position. You got to take the lead
sometimes, sometimes you got to be a follower, but you got to be situational and that
is a completely different skill set.

Bryan Glick: That is going to present a real personal challenge for a lot of both
current IT leaders and aspiring IT leaders, to meet those change requirements.
What is your advice for IT leaders to help them to make that transition?

David Chan: I think the first thing starts with, you know the old joke about
how many psychiatrists it take to change a light bulb? One, because only if
the light bulb really wants to change. The key, I think, is for the IT Director,
or the CIO, who I call the Information Leader, really understanding that they
cannot carry on in that position, because they will end up being marginalized,
so you got to actually change yourself. The smarter ones, and I know quite a
few already, have started doing that. They have educated themselves more;
they have become much more widely read. It is not just the technology; it is
not just the internally focused organization. They are looking around,
commenting on social policies, what are we going to do. The whole issue of
collaborative working and what we do with Facebook and everything else;
that massively impinges on internal operations. Do you let people look at
Facebook? What does that do to your bandwidth requirements? It is those
sorts of things that the smarter people have done. What we can do is we are
launching a very innovative post experience Masters program very, very
soon, it starts in October, to take a mid-career IT professional, or anybody
with a business facing role, and equip them to be a CIO. We have given
the education to understand all those things that I mentioned before in this
interview. And thank you for the plug, by the way.

Bryan Glick: Thank you David, some very interesting points and some
really good advice for IT leaders. Thank you very much for taking the
time to talk to CW500 Club tonight.

David Chan: My pleasure.

Bryan Glick: Thank you for watching this video. We will be back again next
month with another CW500 video then. Look forward to talking to you then.

View All Videos