IT Leaders: Master the Upcoming Culture Change

For all you IT leaders out there, Computerworld's predictions for the future of the IT workforce aren't so much a thought experiment, but a tangible challenge. You've got to do something now to prepare your organization to thrive in this new world.

But let's be honest -- planning for 2020 sounds like a bit of a joke. There's a good chance that many of the people who are working in your organization today will have moved on by then -- maybe you, too. So, what do you do with this information?

I think these three premises can serve as guides for useful action:

1. Purely technical work will be more commoditized than it is today. With the rise of cloud computing and consumer technology, it will make economic sense to outsource a lot of basic services that offer no competitive advantage to an organization. Not only will outsourcing save money, but it will allow you to focus on the people and technologies that offer the greatest benefits.

2. Business and technology will continue to become more tightly intertwined. Since IT organizations evolved from data processing shops, and systems started following the cost curve of Moore's Law, technology has become enmeshed in nearly every aspect of operations. Today and in the future, nearly all business innovations will have technology at their core.

3. The connection between business and technology will involve people, not just processes. While technology has become indispensable to business, the relationship between the people who deliver technology and those who devise, build, sell and deliver products and services has never been smooth. Despite innovative experiments with processes, the effectiveness of the relationship between business people and technology people is ultimately determined by the knowledge, goodwill and mutual understanding of the people themselves.

So, imagine your IT organization in the future: It will be more tightly focused on developing systems that deliver business value than it is on supporting infrastructure, and it will be more focused on buying than it is on building and maintaining. This organization's key competencies will be leveraging commoditized technology in innovative ways, building and maintaining cutting-edge systems that offer competitive advantages, and establishing and maintaining relationships with both outside vendors and internal stakeholders.

Assembling an organization that values and celebrates these skills is a long-term proposition. Most of today's IT shops are built on valuing one thing: technical prowess. Tomorrow's IT groups will have more balanced priorities, raising the importance of human relationship management to the same level as technical chops.

There are several ways to signal to your people that relationship management is gaining value.

New roles: Start by working with your business partners, internal and external, to create positions focused on managing relationships and projects.

Rewards and recognition: Use public recognition to signal to the group what's important.

Prominence and presence: Everyone notices who's in the room when big decisions are made. Functions that are left unrepresented are regarded as lacking influence and importance.

If you consistently stress the importance of relationship management, people will begin to understand what the organization values, and you will be changing the culture, preparing it for the future.

Next: Before we get to 2020, let's look at IT today

Paul Glen is a consultant who helps technical organizations improve productivity through leadership, and the author of the award-winning book Leading Geeks (Jossey-Bass, 2003). You can contact him at info@paulglen.com.

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