Scot Finnie: This year's Premier 100 honorees are entrepreneurial leaders

The notion that "creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations" (as expressed by existential psychologist Rollo May) is what comes to mind when I ponder the many accomplishments of this year's Premier 100 honorees. The limits thrust upon us define how we rise to a challenge.

The senior IT leaders who have excelled in recent years have accepted and mastered a whole new set of rules. It's no longer enough to select the right technology and manage it properly. The IT profession has undergone a sea change that has brought new success criteria. Today, IT has to generate revenue, develop unique services that are valued by customers and be deeply knowledgeable about business needs. Call it entrepreneurial IT.

Our lead story in this package, 2013 Premier 100 IT Leaders: On the fast track, by Julia King, offers several examples of what the best and the brightest are achieving these days. Read that piece if you haven't already.

This year's honorees have put many tactics and strategies into play. But some of the most important involve analytics, business process, shrewd investment and management.

A well-developed set of data analytics is the holy grail of IT -- and it's a lot easier said than done. It can help if you realize that trying to reveal and calibrate a wide range of data points may be counterproductive, at least for now. Consider instead what would truly make a difference to your business and what data you can reliably represent. Then go for the win by coming up with an actionable plan. Doing it right can lead to revenue.

Naturally, if you're doing data analytics, you have to look at your business process as well. The two go hand in hand. The payoff could surprise you. You might expect that streamlining your business process will deliver only a soft return, but it often shows up on the bottom line over time.

There's pretty good news in another trend we're hearing about: technology investment. Of course, the risks and rewards need careful consideration. Some companies are doubling down on analytics implementations and the development of unique services. (See the cover story's account of initiatives under way at UPS.) Mobile products are another area of investment. For instance, King reports that the IT department of Hyatt Hotels produced an iOS app that allows guests to check in and receive their room keys when arriving at the airport.

IT departments endured a long period of personnel drain during the recession. The good news is that we seem to be coming out of it (fingers crossed). But talk about creativity! Some of the best work being done by our smartest IT leaders comes under the heading of management. To develop the differentiating products and services that many IT departments are expected to generate, you need talent -- not just technical talent, but an understanding of customers, business models, the competitive landscape and how technology might be used in new ways. Most of all, you need ideas. The Premier 100 honorees are paying particular attention to recruitment.

Let me leave you with a plug for what is sometimes called motivational management. To inspire people to be creative, forgo tactics like quotas, progress reports and drudge work. What works is to promote teamwork, support ideas, facilitate brainstorming, praise innovation and challenge your team to achieve.

Scot Finnie is Computerworld's editor in chief. You can contact him at sfinnie@computerworld.com and follow him on Twitter (@ScotFinnie).

Next: Return to the full list of 2013 honorees

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