IT and the Line Manager

Think of a management framework from the boardroom to the server closet. In that framework are found all of the smarts, skills and responsibilities needed to successfully exploit information technology, including the Internet, in the interest of the organization as a whole and its individual business lines. My question is, what smarts, skills, and responsibilities should be clustered around the business line manager (BLM)?

Two things are true. One, the cluster you want to assign to the BLM is not the one assigned to the technology manager. Two, it’s not the one you want to assign to the Executive Committee either. The technology manager is responsible, among other things, for managing the whole technology life cycle, from acquisition through disposal, and for developing an IT strategy to support the business and its information and data requirements.

The Executive Committee, on the other hand, has to identify business opportunities, objectives and business strategies that integrate the results of a well-informed technology scan. They’ve got to approve IM and IT strategies, operational and capital budgets for IM and IT, and an IM and IT resource allocation schedule tied to strategic and annual business requirements.

But our focus is on BLM. What should her cluster of smarts, skills and responsibilities look like as these relate to the IT elements of her business line? Here’s my take…..

She’s responsible for making sure that the IT and IM strategies heading up to the boardroom accommodate her specific business objectives. If her objective is to improve revenues through increasing the volume of on-line sales, she’ll want to make sure that there is a strong commitment in the IM and IT strategies that supports increased transaction volumes.

She’s responsible for selecting the business leader for all projects in her shop, even those with intensive IT or IM components. She approves all elements of the IT project. While she will not second-guess the IT manager on specific technology solutions, she’s going to be the one to decide the business case “build or buy” decision. After all, it’s her budget, her project and she’s going to get the call if the application development piece holds up her contribution in a larger company initiative. She alone decides when and whether the project has been successful or not.

In addition to ensuring that the technology expertise is at hand, she has a broader management responsibility to ensure that all the other players are around not only the project table, but also the project’s IT component table as well. And that everyone is well briefed on the technology implications of the project. Is Legal satisfied that there are no privacy issues arising out of the general project design? Is Marketing going to be comfortable with the rate of fulfillment that will be possible, given the proposed order-processing specs? And will Sales be happy with the remote connectivity capacity being proposed?

Not only does she own individual projects; she’s responsible for overseeing all of them. That means she’s setting general standards, performance measurement and reporting requirements, and incorporating IT project-management best practices into her oversight framework.

On the e-commerce front, it’s easy. She and other business managers own e-commerce and are responsible for fireproofing all of it. Failure of a fulfillment process, for example, is a business failure. It may have technical roots, but if it’s her tree they should hang her from it, not the tech manager.

There’s more, of course. We’ve only hit some of the major responsibilities here. These days, successful business line managers are well-seasoned travelers on the path from their business objectives and strategies through information management to information technology and all the way back again.

Chuck Belford is president of Management Smarts Inc., a Nepean, Ont.-based management consulting and training company. He can be reached at