Up The Down Leadership Staircase

The business value of technology. Beautiful words; an even better objective. But success here depends upon where one sits. Given what’s happened over the past few years with the technology market, and given some of the sourcing trends we’re seeing, business technology leadership will morph into something more complicated than traditional business technology leadership practices, certainly more complicated than the business technology leadership practices of the 1990s. The new leadership trends will include a kind of leadership schizophrenia — or worse. Let me explain.

Business technology leadership will require bottom-up infrastructure expertise and top-down strategic finesse. Leadership must be capable of changing in real time to different requirements and challenges — which might come from the same source at the same meeting. Imagine you’re presenting to the senior management team about the state of the business technology union. As you wave your arms around the reliability, scalability, and security of the computing and communications network, someone will interrupt you with a question about why networks still crash or why some machines are faster than others. As you talk about how you’re engineering cross-selling and up-selling through your new customer relationship management (CRM) application, you’ll get questions about that “pain in the ass” in Houston who keeps bugging the company about less-than-perfect parts orders, or some such thing.

You’ll be expected to dance around all sorts of issues like these. You’ll be expected to know how to reboot a machine and kill the competition with a Zen supply chain. You — the technologist who came up through the data center ranks — need to buy expensive suits to impress the other suits. You have to schizophrenically brand yourself as both an operations specialist and a world-class strategist.

There’s a larger trend at work here, of course. Business technology “leaders” are expected to cannibalize their organizations to exploit many of the outsourcing trends that have too many CFOs drooling uncontrollably. Leadership in 2004 and beyond will require a top-down bonding with the ruling party (aka the senior management team) just as it requires an arm’s length relationship with once close friends and colleagues. Some of us will get there, but many will not.

These leadership trends are driven by internal and external factors. In many minds, “IT doesn’t matter” anymore. IT’s been commoditized. The playing field is level, etc., etc., etc. CFOs are on the warpath — again — about how much IT costs — so business technology leaders need to run a tight ship. Externally, competitive advantage is re-emerging as a differentiator — and “strategic technology” has been rediscovered as a boardroom initiative. Leaders have to be strategic, tactical, and operational. Not just schizophrenic but multiphrenic!

These leadership trends will require whole new communications, management, and organizational skills.

So what do you do? First and foremost, embrace the trend. Effective business technology leaders will be expected to be many things to many people — on their way to being all things to all people. Next, think about how you want to brand yourself as the trends evolve. Are you holistic enough to be multiphrenic? Or will you default to execution tactics or operational efficiency? If you’re on the leadership track, then you need to think about the skills you’ll need to succeed. Can you communicate effectively in boardrooms, conference rooms, and clean rooms? Can you commiserate with disgruntled techies and insecure executives? Can you discuss Web services with the interoperability team and then describe why in the hell anyone from the business should care about SOAP? If you can do all these things, then you’ll own the trend.

Steve Andriole, Senior Consultant, Cutter Consortium


This article was originally published by Cutter Consortium


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