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The Changing Paradigm of IT Leadership: Clashing Cultures

By Vincent J. Simonowicz III, CIO, City of Rock Hill, South Carolina

Vincent J. Simonowicz III, CIO, City of Rock Hill, South Carolina

Each day IT leaders are fighting the same battles and challenges in their respective governments. Social trends, political motivations and technological advances place a sometimes inconceivable and unobtainable challenge to any traditional IT organization. The challenge of drawing lines and making decisions based on convenience of use, whims and transparency demands, only result in the demise of, and to the detriment of, security and control mandates of traditional IT. Each decision needing to be made, only placing the next near impossible challenge upon the practitioners of technology. Generational divides and today’s fads in technology are predominantly trumping traditional sanity of IT. The minority of gadget happy government consumers push the envelope and drink up all the dwindling resources of IT as the vendors circle like vultures waiting for the pressure within to build, so they can swoop in to provide the magical all powerful ‘out-sourced’ cloud service solutions. The needs for traditional IT geek in the basement still making enterprise monstrosities within our private bubbles are gone. We must now be full partners giving way to being the Business Integrator and subject matter experts in all things, if for only to stay viable and appear competent. But even with that said, are these trends and demands fully understood? And has the realization of the long term effects and consequences of these type migrations and demands been fully calculated into the results of the business? Do we understand the life cycles of the IT solutions we structure today and their obsolescence, security and migration issues they create for us tomorrow?

"Firsthand knowledge is priceless as it brings understanding and focus to real and well integrated solutions"

The trend dictates that we as IT professionals, can no longer sit back and take what management perceives and sets as silo core enterprise solutions, only for us to put out a products that takes years and loads of money to produce, but instead must provide enterprise integration of all things; after all, not doing this only bolsters the perception of a prim Madonna administrative overhead impressions IT is already saddled with by organization leaders. It is now imperative that we get a seat at the table and be part of the Bridge crew steering the ship. Remembering every single aspect of operation within the enterprise of government now survives by the computer services it operates through; without it, processes stop. And don’t forget, every member of the organization proclaiming they themselves to be an IT specialists; everyone has that new shinny widget they found on the internet or at ‘Best Buy’ that will change the business for the better; noting all the poor IT group has to do is keep it working; kluge and hobble a smorgasbord of these mismatched technologies; manage the ever growing systems and services, guarantying they are melded into a usable products for the enterprise; oh and don’t forget, take the blame for any failing in efficiency or results. Whew, makes you want to look for something else to do, doesn’t it?

Well don’t get too depressed, a solution and hope is at hand, for from these ashes, the enterprise’s most resourceful people all still reside inside our IT organizations, just waiting for the leadership.

In every IT organization I have been part of, the number one things are to:

► Touch and understand every resource under your control,
► Identify the strengths and deficiencies within your domain,
► Make sure every person on staff knows and understands their value and they are the key to success
► Make sure each team member clearly knows their purpose and objectives.
► Make sure every member knows the message and stays on message
► Make sure you are at the decision making table.

Once the basic structure is understood internally, then you must look at the enterprise and determine your partners, customers and problems. Followed by assessing your expected deliverables, expected service levels, and wish list items of the enterprise. It is critical to establish governance, regiment, process and procedures that are tried, true and trusted. Once all this is completed, you have defined and outlined your traditional IT domain and will have a firm foundation. Only then can you reorganize and position yourself to support the legacy landscape and begin establishing the next generation environment.

This is where the real and new challenge in IT begins, and the threshold of traditional leadership is crossed or lost. At this point, the culture of the enterprise will be tested and you will know if you can build a new age IT partner for your enterprise. This is where the cultural barriers and inhibitors will show their ugly heads, where you need to climb over the ‘we have always done it this way’ people.

The most crucial element is to integrate your staff into the operations of the true and fluid needs of the business environment and all its moving parts. This is where I would take my most talented people and place them in intimate contact with the business processes and personnel. The question or challenge at this point lies in the culture of the organization and your ability to elevate and change it: Will they let you in? Do they see you as a partner or an intruder? Noting this is where you and your people need to listen and not just talk or dictate.

Injection into the process means probing questions, and the proverbial ‘walk a mile in their shoes’ approach for discovery. The efforts to absorb and become intimate with the real work or processes are mandatory, as the business is learned. This is where you establish the stakeholders and partners that will become part of your extended team, and they will be your decision makers of the solutions IT eventually will bring to the table. Being a trusted partner is key, then become the subject matter experts on process and procedure. The trick in any of these interactionsis to make them feel you too stand with them and have skin in the game from their perspective, knowing that you too live with the success or failure of an effort. After all, it comes down to relationships and trust, then it’s simply a standards game.

Now projects can be set, and real solutions built. Never forgetting to follow the philosophy of “tell me what you need’, not ‘how to do it.’ This is where the foundation of the traditional structure, IT values, and governance resurface and begin to evolve new paradigm. Firsthand knowledge is priceless as it brings understanding and focus to real and well integrated solutions.

We all see that IT is under an assault of transition, as the technologies become more commoditized into plug and play Lego sets; only awaiting someone to assemble them correctly and efficiently into the enterprise’s perfect integrate big data type solutions. Thus, the paradigm begins to shift within the cultures of the organization, which only requires visionary leadership in the Information Technology services arena. So the real question comes down to: will we evolve as leaders and business integration agents or hold out to the bitter end to our bygone kingdoms of technology?

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