How To Effectively Lead IT
13 October 2016 at 9:41 am
Is the information technology strategy in your not-for-profit organisation rudderless? There are ways that it can be steered effectively in the right direction, writes management and strategy expert Ian Patterson.
IT can often feel like steering a boat through fog. The leadership team will always have eyes well and truly over finance, delivery, HR, marketing. IT, though? A soft shrug with a raise of the eyebrows is all too common. Can we get online? Can we send emails? Yes? Good, IT is sorted.
There is so much danger in this attitude. And as an IT strategist for the social sector, it’s one I am constantly trying to remedy. Yes, you can get online. Yes, you can send emails. But can you make an informed decision on what CRM to invest in? Can the people you help engage with you in the way they want? What about in three years when you’ve expanded – is your infrastructure designed for scale? Your hours-bought IT support partner can’t help you here. You need clear strategy, transparent execution and consistent reporting.
Deep down, you already know this. So why is it so rare?
I’ll tell you why. Because there is often no one person truly responsible for IT. The CFO is usually lumped with oversight and decision-making, despite everyone involved understanding this is not in their wheelhouse. It’s a dot point in the job description. Almost a favour. So when things go wrong it’s not really their fault. It’s not really anyone’s fault. And there’s the rub.
The IT boat will move with the winds and tides, but it can’t steer itself away from the rocks.
So how – without getting a Bachelors in Information Systems or hiring a CIO – can we steer the IT boat in the right direction? How do we know where we want it to go? How do we know if the path we’ve chosen is still the right one?
It’s surprisingly simple. It comes down to governance. What’s exciting is that with a couple of levers pulled and a concerted effort at the start, establishing good leadership over IT is fairly straight forward when it’s done right.
So here’s how to get it right. Before anything else, IT needs a regular, dedicated meeting. Put it in the calendar.
And here’s what you need to talk about:
- Develop an IT strategy, confirm an IT strategy and implement an IT strategy
You won’t get far without a straight-forward, easy-to-comprehend strategy. Crafting an IT strategy is not nearly as daunting as it seems. Don’t start with a blank canvas though (that is daunting) – use the IT Strategy Framework to acquaint yourself with the eight areas of technology to address.
Then spend some time answering these questions for each of the eight areas:
- What do we want to achieve?
- How do we get there?
- What will success look like?
The rest is detail, important detail, but with a response to those three questions you’ll know what answers to seek out to fill in the blanks. And just like that, you’ve begun to establish the foundations of an IT strategy.
- Monitor your tech ecosystem
It’s easy to lose sight of the day-to-day. You’re paying someone to do that for you anyway, right?
But how well are they looking after it? Take a critical eye to the reporting. Are they backing up every day as promised? Are they testing your backups to ensure you can successfully recover from a failed system? Are they installing regular patches to keep your systems safe? Do they ensure that every computer is up to date with antivirus protection? Are they taking steps to ensure your systems are performing well? How do you know for sure? How often are you meeting with them and confirming this?
Dig up your Service Level Agreement (SLA) and mark off what the most important items are. Compare it to their latest report. Are they reporting on this adequately? If not, pick up the phone.
The vast majority of IT outages and service interruptions can be simply avoided by ensuring you have regular meetings with your IT provider and access to concise, accurate reporting.
- Report. Report. Report.
And what to report on exactly? Stick to the four pillars of monthly IT reporting, and use a combination of your IT partner’s report and internal data:
- Operational performance
- Have we got healthy uptime? Can our staff do their work comfortably? Are we running into the same problems again and again?
- Progress of strategic projects:
- Are things on track? What have we not accounted for? How can we avoid delays?
- Compliance with risk policies:
- Are we compliant with our policies on backup and recoverability, Security and privacy?
- Are we updating our risk registers at least annually?
- Are we treating the risks we’ve identified? What’s the progress?
- Financial performance to budget:
- Are we under? Over? Why? What needs to change?
Once a good rhythm is established, the difference these steps make across the whole organisation is astounding. All it takes is a little buy-in upfront and you won’t believe the relief and (frankly) joy from both the staff and leadership team. The only question left to ask is “Why didn’t we do this earlier?”.
So step onto the bridge, captain your IT boat, steer through the fog and onto the next horizon.
About the author: Ian Patterson is CEO of Human IT. With 19 years of experience in IT strategy, management and support, he is fiercely passionate about helping not-for-profit and for-purpose organisations create social value through IT. Human IT works to help the social sector organisations fix their internal operations and boost their social impact.