What makes a great Head of IT in 2023?
August 24, 2023 |
8 min read
Sophie Hussey looks at the role of the Head of IT in the 2020s and how it has evolved over the past decade. She also explores how to find the right balance between technical and business skills, and how IT managers should approach their ongoing professional development and goal-setting for the year ahead.
Ten years ago, IT departments were technology-focused, but fast-forward to 2023 and this has transformed into a focus on service. Instead of beginning with specific tools, vendors or other technology components, heads of IT should think about how to deliver value to the business and/or customer. This means asking questions like “what is the customer experience of this service?” and “are we delivering value?”.
Challenges and opportunities
Frequently, technology is regarded by senior management as a business cost, as it involves significant investment comparable to an organization’s people costs. It is notoriously difficult to attribute revenue to IT, but it nevertheless enables revenue generation elsewhere in the business. The challenge for today’s IT leaders is to influence and realign this perspective, encouraging colleagues to see IT as a value partner without which the business cannot deliver.
Another major challenge is the perennial struggle between delivering the “bright and shiny new thing”, versus getting the basics right and keeping the wheels turning. Ongoing operational maintenance and keeping technical debt minimized must compete for time, attention and funds with the delivery of new features and services.
The third major challenge lies in how to apply best practice frameworks: it is tempting to adopt the latest buzzwords and fads, but do you truly understand what these frameworks entail and live their values, or just co-opt their terminology? Is your IT delivery agile, or fragile? Are you “lean” or just cutting costs? This is where ITIL® can help, as much of ITIL’s practices are simple and common-sense.
Technical vs business skills for the digital organization
IT heads need to have a blend of ‘hard’ technical and ‘soft’ people skills, but leadership ability is of paramount importance in the digital era. Regardless of a manager’s technical background, they need to develop and apply their leadership skills driven by core values. These include acting with integrity, being open and honest and managing teams with empathy. It is vital to be comfortable giving constructive feedback to team members, in a safe and nurturing environment.
A key feature of the role is to act as a bridge between IT colleagues and the business, so great communication skills are necessary to translate the business’ objectives for the technical teams and, conversely, to explain technical subjects to senior leaders in an engaging manner.
Communication is central to understanding the needs and motivations of stakeholders and to provide information to them in appropriate formats. Having a technical background certainly helps, but more important is an ability to grasp the bigger picture whilst juggling operational responsibilities and encouraging passion and innovation in your teams.
Learning and development
In my view, experience trumps education. Senior managers do not need to have degrees but, having said that, a programme of ongoing learning and development is invaluable. Basic management training is helpful, but learning about emotional intelligence, motivation and insight training can be of great benefit to managers. Psychometric testing and personality assessments such as Myers-Briggs can offer insights into your strengths and weaknesses, providing self-awareness on how you operate as a leader and impact other people.
The ITIL 4 Leader: Digital and IT Strategy (DITS) course is fantastic, providing you with perspective on how all aspects of technology leadership fit together.
The relevance of ITIL 4 to the role
ITIL 4 is relevant to every area of the enterprise. For IT leaders, its focus on value via the Service Value System and the value chain helps you to understand what technology teams do and how this relates to the bigger picture. It focusses on value co-creation and emphasises the need for true collaboration and interconnection between silos, helping IT and the business pull in the same direction.
Goal setting for 2023
For the rest of the year ahead, think about your personal development needs, as well as those of your department. Ask yourself what your goals are, and how they fit with the organization. Do they complement each other? If you have yet to undertake ITIL 4 Foundation training, consider this as it will help you understand the service value chain and the ITIL Guiding Principles, which apply to everything your team does.