CIO Folder: Building a better IT team

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Businesses want ideas, not just maintenance, from their IT departments

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11 April 2019 | 0

Nowadays, the internal IT team is multi-disciplinary. In a large organisation the IT department encompasses a broad range of skills, with specialist sub-teams depending on the dominant technologies. There are IT teams in multinationals comprising several hundred with different ranges of skills operating 24 hours. The scale or the core business of the organisation is reflected in the IT team, from generalists to differentiated teams.

Under the CIO, the team/department has a hierarchy of necessary skills. This should place Cybersecurity at the top, particularly as the Internet of Things and home networks ruled by Siri and Alexa, etc. are growing. The list is, however, ambiguous: Operating systems might top the list, or digital storage, or apps, or Web portals. Cloud is non-contributory, while running 24×7 is only an intermittent responsibility from the office(s).

Today, there is a pervasive culture of fast-moving businesses, driven by the need to be customer-centric, innovative and agile. That means the IT team has to be ‘creative’ and imaginative – supported by IT skills and traditional disciplines.

DevOps is currently a favourite in-house activity. Data analytics is popular and growing, where small teams using domain-specific knowledge and complementary IT skills have a leader reporting to the CIO. Online is a challenge, depending on sales. SMEs can get by on low volumes while in large enterprises the IT estate is vast and competitive and requires the marketing department is at one with the IT team.

General interest
In SMEs the generalist(s) is on call for staff queries and IT problems. Their responsibilities extend to managing external services with senior managers. Frequently, the external service is universal to care and maintain the IT systems and the designated executive is the liaison, with advice and low-level problem solving to users. Several categories of smaller firms are IT-dependent, whether online or supplying digital services or consultancy and so has a team of specialists. The richness of their talent attracts customers. It is competitive.

In large organisations the specialist talent bank is the engine of progress. From construction companies to banks and financial institutions, from online retail to multimedia entertainment, success is based on creative and innovative talent. It is particularly so for the specialist digital team, which is often creative in their own right. Organisations of all types depend on the Internet/Web for their success, from liaising with partners, suppliers and outlets to delivering their products online from software to entertainment (video or audio) to security.

The CIO – or equivalent – builds a digital team. It is a mix of expertise and experience, strengthened by creative talent. The CIO has a range of responsibilities but the through line is building a talented team. The gender balance is improving with more women in the IT team or department. Talent is universal – and competence is proven in job experience.

The CIO has to focus on relevant expertise, from cyber security to cloud management to enterprise resource planning. Nowadays, the growing emphasis is on data analysis with a national scarcity of qualified or experienced analysts. The convention is that a small team is the key to useful data analysis, be it exploratory or targeted. We have referred to the classic ‘three Vs’ in the CIO Folder and added three more in the task of searching and analysing data: volume, velocity, variety, value, veracity and vital.

It is obvious that the six Vs do not require data scientists to pinpoint the significance in the particular organisation. Domain knowledge and experience reveals the value of the ‘vital’ or the ‘value’ and even the ‘veracity’. As with data generally, some elements have critical relevance and others are rubbish. That context is Big Data, which by and large confined to large corporations and the sub-team of data analytics of different skills. Typically, it involves unstructured data and concealed elements that might turn out to half little or no value.

Business analytics teams seek patterns and insights for better marketing and refined processes and disruption in the target markets. Their aims are developing ideas for new products, services, and even entire business models. They often nominally report to the CIO but their increasingly valuable reports will nurture innovation in the marketing department or others. Their reports are increasingly fed to AI, largely experimental projects but with occasional substantive results and increasing their value as they mature. Data-driven decisions have become the norm, frequently automated within business rules. AI is increasingly contributing to that, automating business processes.

Failsafe
Back to the IT team. As it matures in larger organisations its characteristic is a combination of technical skills and business skills, often backed up with marketing expertise. It is no longer a question of ‘keeping the lights on’ for an IT department – although that is number one duty. Today there is an architecture of redundant servers and failsafe systems, not to mention cloud for specific tasks – or general computing. Electricity failure is the ultimate threat which is why organisations have UPS or generators – or both. An orderly shutdown is the technique to preserve data. Data centres have multiple sources of electricity. Staff in the IT department supervise electric failures according to laid down procedures.

Data preservation is the ultimate duty of the IT team. The second is to create value through advanced systems – customer-facing included – and bring business processes to higher levels of efficiency and automation. The IT team has gone through a transition in the last decade or so. The smarter organisations have moved on from maintenance of systems and user support to a creative team with the emphasis on digital transformation. The aim is to improve the quality of the organisation, whether business, state agencies or not for profit like healthcare, universities and research.

The IT team today is by and large innovative rather than concerned with maintenance. Mind you, the team is duly called when a broad scale set of software is selected for rollout of, for example, an ERP package. External consultants install to the specified software but the IT team is expected to be knowledgeable enough to provide ongoing support.

Today, there is a pervasive culture of fast-moving businesses, driven by the need to be customer-centric, innovative and agile. That means the IT team has to be ‘creative’ and imaginative – supported by IT skills and traditional disciplines. The advances are now evolutionary rather than the big project, big step forward approach of a decade ago. This means the members of an IT team should be recruited from the marketing or business side or deep collaboration with relevant colleagues.

The CIO (or equivalent IT department head) should recruit the brainy colleagues or persuade the chosen ones to collaborate in depth. Temporary sub-teams should be recruited/assembled for innovation projects, reinforced by a technology leader with experience and a wide range of digital skills. Digital transformation is a clichéd term but it’s still an all-consuming corporate objective. It should be the responsibility of a team, with a leader, to follow the nominated objective of CIO, CEO or senior executives to explore the potential for innovation. Talent is the basis of innovation, supported by technology skills.

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