Get Ready for the Evolution of IT Excellence

If you're in IT, you can relate to the old Pennsylvania Dutch saying, "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get." Our world is getting crazy. Researchers warn that the amount of information we're responsible for will reach 35 trillion gigabytes by the end of this decade -- meaning it will grow by a factor of 44. Meanwhile, IT head count is forecast to expand by a factor of just 1.4 during the same time period, according to IDC. In most organizations, IT is responsible for designing and leading the processes whereby all of that information is rendered actionable, and it's charged with monitoring the mechanisms that ensure that information assets are curated with appropriate care and diligence. If we are to do that job -- indeed, if we are to keep our jobs -- something is going to have to change. We're going to have to get an order of magnitude better at what we do. IT excellence has to evolve.

To be successful, IT executives have to transit both the curve of the present and the curve of the future; that is, they have to simultaneously create the new and manage the old. They have to operate simultaneously in at least three fundamentally different technology time zones: new systems about to be deployed, existing systems in production, and older systems about to be retired. Sadly, many IT workers are so buried with the work that must be done just to keep the lights on that there's no time to even consider the learning curve associated with what comes next.

As I have repeatedly said on these pages, the first step on the path to the next stage of IT excellence is to have a map. In the popular mind, leadership is all about movement, and to demonstrate movement, you need to establish in the minds of your stakeholders where you are now and where you're going. Whether you use milestones or "project pebbles" (that is, very granular day-to-day metrics that tell your audience, "This is how far we have gone"), you need a schema that documents that progress is being made. Unfortunately, as many as 60% of IT shops don't have the points of reference to confidently ask, as Ronald Reagan did in 1980, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" When asked how things are going, workers chained to the curve of now can only gasp, "Busy, very busy," and return to the task at hand.

Relationships Matter

Having a map is just the beginning. Career autopsies of failed CIOs and case studies celebrating IT leadership successes highlight the importance of interpersonal relationships. Relationship management is a white-hot theme in management literature today. Everyone knows that all the great leaders have a great human network backing them.

But not all relationships are created equal. Stephan Chase, vice president of customer knowledge at Marriott, reminded a group of CIOs at the IT Leadership Academy about Aristotle's three-stage hierarchy of social interaction, in which the most basic relationships are those of utility. They are superficial and contractual "I pay you to do something" relationships. Next are relationships of pleasure: There is utility involved, but one takes pleasure in the company of the other party. The highest form involves shared virtue and is achieved when both parties have an authentic concern for the needs of the other. If you can't build shared-virtue relationships, IT excellence will escape you.

Thornton A. Mayis the author of The New Know: Innovation Powered by Analytics and executive director of the IT Leadership Academy at Florida State College at Jacksonville. You can contact him at thorntonamay@aol.com.

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