The skills and talents needed by IT managers and IT workers are changing.
The rise of cloud computing and externally managed services is part of a long-term trend towards strategic (as opposed to purely technical) thinking.
Indeed, because IT has overtaken almost all aspects of a business – from inventory and supply chain management to communications and customer relationships – whoever is responsible for your IT services today has enormous influence on your business.
A good question is therefore what skills are needed to fit the role.
The right skills?
The days when IT managers had to be dedicated hardware gurus, experts in RAID configuration and firewall setups have passed.
Technical skills are still important, but with externally operated cloud and managed services becoming more prominent (services where day-to-day support, management and upgrade work are executed by specialist providers) these skills are starting to matter less.
This does not mean that the role of IT teams is to be less valued however. What it does mean is a shift away from operational expertise and towards business analysis and strategic thought.
Here are examples of skills that are becoming increasingly essential:
Perhaps 80% of what most businesses do is the same. It’s the 20% of what they do differently that makes them unique.
IT managers should increasingly be focusing on enhancing this 20%: looking to deploy systems, applications and innovations that will offer competitive advantage.
Whether that’s through improvements to efficiency, speed-to-market or productivity, IT managers must now be good strategic thinkers, able to identify opportunities and align technology with business aims.
Managing third-party relationships
In addition to business-oriented thinking, it’s now vital that IT managers to have the skills to engage and manage IT providers.
This means being able to assess not only the quality and suitability of services but IT providers themselves, seeking out SLA-based guarantees, proven track records, and long-term relationships that can be relied on.
Once providers are in place, it’s important to be able to proactively manage these relationships, ensuring that services are being delivered as promised.
Part of that process is contract management.
IT managers need to make sure that the agreements their businesses enter specify:
Scope and responsibilities. Contracts must clearly stipulate what services, hardware and software they cover and who is responsible for what.
Service levels. Contracts should include SLAs with real-world penalties for under performance.
Novation conditions. Acquisitions happen often in the IT industry. Contracts must set out what will occur if a business changes hands.
Data and intellectual property. Contracts should be clear about data and IP ownership remaining with you.
The ability for IT managers to understand and negotiate the terms of contracts such that the best interests of the business are served will be an increasingly important responsibility.
As technology continues to make its mark on all aspects of today’s businesses, the role of the IT team in identifying, investing in and then promoting the benefits of new innovations is paramount.
With more operational and technical responsibilities being passed to third parties, the task of managing and driving positive business change should now feature much more prominently on the IT agenda.
The best managers and teams will be those with the insight and understanding required to manage external relationships while deploying IT for maximum business advantage.
Dave Stevens is MD, Brennan IT
(This blog post was first published on the SmartCompany website on February 23 2012).