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2 January 2007

Influence: excellence is not enough

By Andrew Clifford

Influence gives the IT organisation the freedom to act and to deliver value. To win real influence, the IT organisation must go beyond excellent service and project delivery.

Like all organisations, IT organisations and IT departments need influence. They need influence to get an appropriate slice of the investment pie. They need influence and credibility throughout the wider organisation so that they have the freedom to act and to deliver value.

Every IT director, CIO and CTO knows this. The job is not technology. Like any senior position, there is a need to build credibility, build alliances, and protect the position of the IT organisation. This isn't empire building – it's real world organisational politics.

So how can an IT organisation build this influence?

The "easy" answer is to do the core job really well. (Easy to say, not so easy to do.) Deliver excellent IT services at low cost. Deliver projects on time and to budget.

But to win even more influence, we need to build on top of this solid base of service and project delivery. Here are four more things to do.

  • Emphasise the stewardship role. The IT organisation is not just there to deliver today's services, or even next year's projects. They have an ongoing responsibility for the long-term well being of the organisation's IT. Use system governance to set long-term goals for IT, and to show that they are being met.
  • Be down-to-earth about value. Most businesses now have a complete IT infrastructure, and the IT work has shifted to consolidation, improvement and renewal. To reflect this, the IT organisation should move from an evangelist role (which was suitable during the rapid roll out of IT) to a more critical role. Overambitious projects that fail to deliver give the IT organisation a bad name. Ruthlessly weed these out by avoiding IT proposals where the benefits can not be simply stated and easily understood.
  • Remember you are a buyer, not a seller. IT organisations have a split personality. They procure IT on behalf of the organisation. But they also deliver many IT services and projects in-house. Most IT staff (programmers, systems administrators, operators, etc) think of themselves as IT providers. To build influence, remember that the main task of the IT organisation is to buy on behalf of the organisation, not to sell into the organisation.
  • Recognise the political landscape. The wider organisation has a defined structure of divisions and departments which has grown up over many years for good commercial, operational and political reasons. The IT organisation must work within this, and not cut across it. When defining projects and designing systems, make sure the work and the technology is structured to reflect the broader organisational structure. Do not centralise systems unless there is a central organisation to run them (and vice versa).

Compared to the challenges of service and project delivery, these suggestions might seem low priority. But the attitudes are critical. If you deliver excellent service and projects you will be seen as dependable, but ultimately expendable. To win real influence, to be indispensable, you need to go further and show how the IT organisation is a responsible and effective part of the broader organisation.

Next: Justifying IT investment 1: measurement

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