Seven Essential Ingredients for Leadership

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In other words, because he knew there was some flexibility in how he approached the problem, Siegel was free to switch from the Web service-based approach that the team first tried -- but found too slow because of the large size of the returned data sets -- to a service-oriented architecture approach that accomplished the requirements without the processing delay.

Industry expertise also helps IT leaders thoroughly understand a project's implications, including the mine fields they might encounter. That's what Barbara Dolhansky found out when, as associate vice president of computer services at Temple University in Philadelphia, she led a project to replace Social Security numbers with a new nine-digit key structure to identify university students, faculty and staff. The project had its technology challenges, but it could have also resulted in broad political and change management issues if Dolhansky hadn't been keenly aware of all the constituents who would be affected by the change.

"What we were doing was changing the entire way Temple did business," she says. "We had to understand all the constituent groups and include them in making key decisions."

Beyond technology considerations, the project entailed redesigning 11 styles of new picture ID cards, taking into consideration requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act; distributing the cards to more than 50,000 people; modifying the ID card system to print the new designs; and providing a secure, Web-based mechanism for those outside of IT to convert data in their own systems to the new format. The only way to foresee all the possible repercussions was to understand how universities operate, Dolhansky points out.

"It wasn't just a technology project; it was also a business project," she says.

And having the industry knowledge is just as important as passing these insights along to your staff, Pence says. "I believe engineers appreciate business pressures, and they respond when they're brought into the discussion as opposed to being left to juggle development work without the business context," he says.

"I don't think any IT leader can lead in a vacuum anymore," Dolhansky says. "If you don't know the business issues, you're not able to do your job."

See the complete 2007 Premier 100 IT Leaders special report.

Industry Know-how: How to Soak Up the Skill
  • Make a point of talking with decision-makers in your company or their direct reports on a quarterly basis. Find out which questions they're having a hard time getting answered and what problems they face.
  • Read industry magazines to learn about customers' changing demands.
  • Network with your peers at places like industry conferences to discover upcoming industry trends or validate your own challenges.
  • Seek out client service roles to discover customer pain points.
  • Visit with companies in your area that face similar issues or are implementing similar systems to share their lessons learned.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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