IT execs reveal strategies for current challenges

Viruses, hackers, unrest in outsourcing locations, employee apathy, a jobless economic recovery and stagnant budgets – these are the challenges that try IT leaders’ souls. While 2003 brought a glimpse of economic recovery, few IT leaders at the annual Computerworld U.S. IT leaders awards program last December reported a positive impact on technology budgets or staff size. The mantra remains the same: do more with less.

At the same time, many saw technology’s role grow in developing business strategy. Chief technology officers and CIOs face a series of dilemmas that look like a catch-22: continue to innovate, protect data and maintain systems, but do it with fewer staffers and smaller budgets. Outsource to save money, but beware of volatile geographic areas. Give customers greater access to data, but prevent hackers from getting in. Push technology forward, but don’t take unnecessary risks. What’s more, they’re challenged to motivate staffs that often lack innovative projects and performance-based rewards.

It’s all in a day’s work when you’re helming an IT operation.

Universal Health Services Inc., a $3.2 billion hospital management company in King of Prussia, Pa., took advantage of downtime to step up its mentoring program. “I often think employees are set up for failure” by not being told what is expected of them, says CIO Linda L.E. Reino, who makes sure all IT employees know they play an important role, whether they’re flipping the switch on a new system or holding down the fort back at the office.

Concerns about instability in many popular offshore outsourcing locales are also demanding more resources, time and attention than ever before.

Capital One Financial Corp. CTO Roy E. Lowrance believes in the financial and staffing advantages of outsourcing but says it took three months of debate before the financial services firm agreed to send some of its work to India, after addressing concerns about the security of its data. “We’re proceeding slowly and carefully,” he says.

10 principles of IT leadership

1. There are no systems that can’t be changed. – Brad W. Peiffer, group director of global database management, IMS Health Inc.

2. It doesn’t necessarily have to be (the CIO) standing in the limelight to get the IT message across. – Linda L.E. Reino, CIO, Universal Health Services Inc.

3. When choosing new technology, separate fact from fiction, get away from urban legends, and let the numbers drive the decision. – Jeffrey Campbell, vice-president of technology services and CIO, The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co.

4. Be acutely attuned to your company’s business strategy and what it could be. – Roy E. Lowrance, CTO, Capital One Financial Corp.

5. To get a seat at the table, you need to be viewed as someone who handles the tough problems. – Joseph Cleveland, CIO, Lockheed Martin Corp.

6. The relationship that you create with members of your team allows you to ask for greater commitments. – Mark F. Hedley, senior vice-president and CTO, Wyndham International Inc.

7. Identify risks. There is no hiding them. – Christopher Kowalsky, senior vice-president and CIO, Education Management Corp.

8. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Create a compelling vision for change and why it is important. – Jeffrey Campbell

9. Be adaptable – that means sensing the next issues before others, then preparing the IT organization. – Joseph Cleveland

10. Don’t crush the butterfly. Too much process crushes the innovation.

– Roy E. Lowrance

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