Mastering a manager’s must-haves

Leadership. Communication. Strategy. Diplomacy. Money. Technology. Industry. These are the things IT leaders must master. If you want to make it to the top of your profession, these disciplines are no longer fancy bells and whistles you might add on to your basic IT management functionality. These days, they’re the requirements for the job.

Is that too much to ask? Maybe it feels that way.

After all, it wasn’t so long ago that the tabulations department was only responsible for tons of data on punched cards. Just 50 years ago, a tabs manager’s responsibilities were almost entirely operational: wrangling truckloads of cards, wiring up sorting and tabulating machines, and making sure printed reports — big stacks of green-bar paper — were delivered on time.

Eventually, the old sorters and tabulators were replaced by computers and software. Then came time sharing, departmental minicomputers, PCs, LANs, client/server computing, e-mail, the Internet, electronic data interchange, real-time supply chain management, data warehouses, online retailing and RFID tags.

With each new technology, as tabs morphed to DP, then MIS, IS and IT, the distance between information and the business got smaller. We moved closer to the business processes we supported; users moved closer to our data, hardware and software.

And beyond the simple logistics of primitive data processing, we took on automation, process re-engineering and business transformation. We focused on communications, not just networking. Business change, not just programming. Information, not just data.

Now here we are at the future, where technology only makes it to the number six spot on the list of areas of must-have expertise for IT leaders. Ahead of tech are all the skills necessary to wrangle executives, wire up deals and make sure business advantage is delivered on time.

Too much to ask? Perhaps — but not because we can’t figure all this out. We already have. That list of seven crucial disciplines didn’t come from a gaggle of geniuses at some think tank. It came from the CIOs among this year’s Computerworld (U.S.) Premier 100. They’re neck-deep in the real challenges of IT leadership in business. They’re our people. They get it. We can, too.

No, if it feels like it’s too much, maybe that’s because although we’ve arrived at the future, large parts of the world around us are mired in the past.

We still rely on colleges and universities that crank out IT staffers who are mere coders and mechanics, who too often don’t understand business, can’t be bothered to learn, and resent any suggestion that it’s part of their job.

We still turn to hardware and software vendors who too often pitch speeds and feeds instead of business flexibility, who remain more interested in locking us into their proprietary products than in partnering with us to maximize our advantage and their sales.

And we still depend on the cooperation of our own business-side executives and managers, who too often are saddled with obsolete ideas about what IT can do and whether they can trust us to help reshape the business.

Those seven disciplines aren’t just valuable to our personal career success. They’re crucial to the success of our organizations. They mean the difference between competitiveness and decline, creativity and stagnation. That’s the difference IT can make when it’s unleashed. It’s the difference we can make when we step up as IT leaders.

Hayes is Computerworld (U.S.)’s senior news columnist. Contact him at [email protected].

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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