Five Recession Survival Skills

It's a scary new world, but IT leaders who adjust can still prosper.

Money issues now require much more of CIO Diana Melick's attention than they did in the past.

The faltering economy has her forecasting costs and slashing budgets just like her peers, but Melick went a step further. She had her staff scrutinize infrastructure costs, the largest area of IT spending.

"In good times, no one looks at their phone bills," she says, but when things get tough, "it's time to start looking at the details.

"And once you see those costs, you can ask whether there is a better way to manage them," she adds. That includes confronting vendors and asking for their own ideas on reducing costs.

Melick did all of the above, and as a result, the vice president and CIO at Alpharetta, Ga.-based Siemens Energy and Automation, a division of Siemens AG, cut some costs by 15% to 20%.

Melick identifies such fiscal finesse as one of the top skills needed to run IT today. In fact, the economy is shaking up CIOs' skill sets and lowering the premium on some traditionally valued traits while putting others in the spotlight. Here's a look at five skills that are vital to those leading IT right now.

1. Penny-pinching

Like Melick, Guy J. Russo, the CIO at CommunityAmerica Credit Union in Lenexa, Kan., says he's focused on finding efficiencies anywhere he can.

"We're trying to make it fun to save costs, and we're trying to get people to think about it and demonstrate to the business how the IS organization gets it -- that we know life is tough, and here's the plan for how we can save," he says.

He motivates workers by displaying their successes. A bulletin board at the door leading to the IT department holds a thermometer-style bar chart that tracks the savings realized through tech initiatives.

Russo is also setting new financial expectations. For example, he says his staffers know that coming in on budget isn't enough to earn kudos anymore; they have to come in under budget -- but still deliver the expected high-quality services and products.

2. Inspiring Calm

Workers can't influence the corporate decisions that could determine whether they'll keep their current schedules, pay grades or jobs, and as a result, they can feel powerless and panicked.

But while these times are tumultuous, your leadership shouldn't be, says Peter Whatnell, CIO at Sunoco Inc. and president of the Society for Information Management.

"Right now, your leadership counts more than it has for the past 10 years. And you have to be a leader for your staff and a leader for your company," he explains. "You have to let them know that you're going to keep them up to date. You have to maintain a positive but honest communication with your staff, deal with issues as they come up, and if you have to make cuts, make them humanely and decisively."

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