IT survival guide

Dear Colleagues:

I’ve been in IT for 40 years, and I plan to retire at the end of this year. Yes, I’m retiring as the CIO, and I’m not being downsized, forcibly replaced or fired. I’ve been at my current company, Ace Hardware Corp., for 25 years. That’s a long time in this day and age of the portable CIO. In fact, (U.S.) reported Dec. 22 that the average CIO tenure is 18 to 36 months.

Over the past 40 years in technology, I’ve developed some practices that have served me well. Perhaps they can also help you survive in the treacherous world of IT. So here are Ingevaldson’s top 10 ways to survive the IT jungle:

10. Don’t be afraid to leave IT. It’s a great experience, and you’ll probably come back. And you will come back as a more well-rounded executive. You will also experience IT from the outside in and better understand people’s true feelings about IT within the corporation.

And there is nothing more fun and more daunting than trying to make the revenue line. Most of us manage expenses well, but that revenue line is really a challenge. Believe me, you will gain renewed respect for your users.

9. Don’t keep IT in the closet. Spread the word, create excitement and convince people to get on the IT bandwagon. We are in a very exciting, dynamic profession that is changing the life of everyone on the planet. You may sometimes think we are selling reports and screens, but remember: We’re creating business-changing and life-changing systems.

8. Never think you know it all, because you don’t. But even if you do, it will change. Read voraciously, and know what’s going on. Read outside of your expertise so you can see the world on a bit larger stage. I love Harvard Business Review, The Economist and MIT Technology Review, along with all the other technology magazines and newspapers.

7. Understand the corporate strategy and mobilize IT to support it. Be sure you’re part of the process, not just the implementer. This is a high priority, and you must make yourself necessary in the strategy meetings. This requires that you think in company terms, not IT terms. This is really a stretch for some of us, and it’s where the rubber meets the road.

6. Develop a “cheap” image. For some of us, especially a Norwegian like me, this is easy. IT is an expensive, misunderstood area that is clouded by mistrust and arcane concepts. The last thing you need to do is flaunt your image and act like a know-it-all IT savant. Get rid of the Armanis and the pinkie rings. Be down to earth and talk business-speak, not IT-speak.

5. Don’t overmanage IT personnel. Our business is exciting and self-motivating. Provide the proper tools and environment, set the right strategy, and get out of the way. Remember when you were a programmer, and how the worst thing was to have someone looking over your shoulder.

4. Expect your people to make dates and budgets on projects. Do this by managing the lock-in dates for both and by minimizing specification creep. Missed deadlines and busted budgets give IT a bad name, and they are often caused by uninvolved users. Be sure — no, demand — that you have user involvement in projects. Be strong and vigilant. Sure, some projects will go over, but that should be the exception, not the rule.

3. Don’t charge out IT. Operate it as an expense center. I feel very strongly that the need to charge out is an indication that the company doesn’t support IT. If you have a process where top executives make the prioritization decisions, then IT is working on the important applications. There is no need to charge out.

If you decide to charge out and thus operate IT like a utility, then it will never be strategic. Nicholas Carr will be right. Having electricity in the wall won’t give you a strategic advantage. It’s just a cost of entry into the game. Besides, the charge-out system is a big system that requires a huge amount of processing time and data input, and it results in much disagreement with the very users we are trying to nurture.

2. Learn to delegate. If you’re answering too many easy questions, you’re not delegating enough. Sure, it makes you feel good that you still know the answers, and that is a big thing for an ITer. If you delegate the easy ones and get only the hard ones, you’ll have a tougher day, but your people will feel more engaged and the department will move faster. Besides, tough days are why they invented single malts.

1. Force IT onto the plate of all senior executives. They can handle it. It’s part of their job, just like finance, marketing and all the other major departments. Just mention that you spend between one per cent and seven per cent of corporate revenue and you want to get them more involved. What are they going to say? You’ll be surprised by how much they really want to understand technology.

That’s my list. It has helped me avoid some of the pitfalls that are out there, and I hope it helps you. Good luck and have fun. You’re in a great business.

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