IT managers make New Year

If you had asked an IT manager for a New Year’s resolution last year the response would have been a no brainer: deal with that nagging Y2K thing. But now that the majority of the issue is behind them, what sort of resolutions are they making this year?

While there was little consensus, there are some general underlying issues that IT managers feel need to be dealt with in order to make their job both more effective and easier.

Speaking to several IT specialists, ComputerWorld Canada found there were two areas that all agreed needed more work: increasing the amount of communication between the IT sector and the rest of the company, and increasing the knowledge IT managers have of the overall business processes. And, as it turns out, increasing one tends to lead to an increase of the other.

Good communication is the foundation of most relationships, up to and including the running of a multinational corporation with 100,000 employees.

The following metaphorical, but to the point, statement is courtesy of Kenneth Grant, director of the School of Information Technology Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. “If they actually opened the doors of fortress IT and looked outside they would find friendly natives around, not even throwing things at them. They want them to come out and play.”

He was by no means alone in talking about the siege mentality that sometimes infects the IT community.

Hugh Kelly, vice-president of information technology at the LCBO in Toronto agrees. “They (IT managers) need to get out into the business. It is so easy to get caught into the trap of being totally internalized and spending 80 per cent of your time managing the IT department,” he said.

He added that managers should spend at least 50 per cent of their time looking outward from the IT division and that he personally tries to spend up to 80 per cent of his time outside of his department. By getting his own IT people out talking and communicating with store managers, for example, Kelly said it puts a name to a face. The payoff, he said, is when there is a problem store managers can call directly to the IT person they have met instead of going up the chain of command, across to IT and back down. Kelly said getting communication going at the lower levels is not only faster but also a great deal more efficient.

Gene Wilburn, the Royal Ontario Museum’s assistant director of new media resources in Toronto, said his small organization allows him to naturally communicate and network with all sections of the museum. “You see people, you communicate, you talk with others. There is a real sense of community, rather than say isolation. I think probably the bigger you are the more tendency there is to become a little isolated,” he said.

In many cases increasing corporate communication requires IT managers to remember that most of the rest of the business world uses standard language, not the mumbo jumbo of techno-speak.

“[IT managers] are very often seen as technocrats and not business people and we reinforce that ourselves – you know some of the bullshit jargon we use and everything else,” Kelly said. “It is important to project and present a business image and to show some business common sense, and to use business terminology rather than technology terminology.” He added that it helps by “taking your technology hat off when you are dealing with those senior business people.”

The other major goal raised by various IT managers is understanding business from a business perspective. Ken Takagaki, dean of computing at the British Columbia Institute of Technology in Vancouver, said it most succinctly: “The best employees are the ones who really understand the overall goals of the business.”

Richard Fung, project leader for the police liaison services with Toronto’s Metro Police force, sees IT projects as often running on their own without an overall business understanding. There is a tendency “not to align the IT projects with the corporate goals,” he said. “[IT projects] tend to go tangentially, and [we] implement technology without taking heed to the direction of the company.”

There were, to be sure, many other resolutions added to the list. Many of the IT managers want to see more senior level corporate involvement in major IT projects, beyond just yeaing or naying an IT budget. They also wanted to see various section managers be more responsible for the technology that their own department uses, and more employee IT training. This is so the thousands of computer users in the various companies do not fall back on what Wilburn referred to as the “click and hope” approach to computers.