websites and services
multimedia projects
content management systems
online learning
online directories

Changing Role of the IS Professional
G. Herman, (c) April 2000
This is an edited version of a report originally published as an NCC Guideline for IT Management.


Management summary
How IS has changed
The IS professional's role
Leadership functions
Changing leadership roles
Changing leadership responsibilities
IS management issues
How to become a CIO
Panel survey
Key Points

Management summary
The changes that have taken place within the IS function in the last ten to 20 years have meant that the jobs of people working within IS have also changed. At one level, these changes have seen the decline of certain technical skills once thought central to computing and information technology and the growth of new technical skills more appropriate to the systems and applications now being used by organizations. Higher up the hierarchy of the IS profession the changes have been more profound. Today, the emphasis is increasingly on leadership within IS and organizational effectiveness.

Leadership functions have been studied by a number of academics and we use Harvey Mintzberg's typology in this Guideline. It suggests that all leaders play three kinds of role - informational, decisional and interpersonal. Within IS, there has been a distinct trend towards professionals placing greater emphasis on informational roles - perhaps in recognition of the increasing importance of information in managing an information system. But the higher a professional is up the IS hierarchy, the more roles they must assume and, in recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on specific functions such as change management and team management.

IT systems have moved from their former position as support tools to their position today at the heart of organizations. This means that IS professionals are increasingly required to focus on business issues not technology. While IS departments must preserve and build their technical competence, in order to advance the IS professional must acquire business skills. This simple fact has important implications for the way organizations use their IS leaders and recruit and train their IS staff. Coaching and mentoring are becoming increasingly important at every level within the IS organization, while at the highest levels the IS leaders can only demonstrate organizational effectiveness by becoming increasingly involved in corporate strategy development and relationship building.
The radical changes that have overtaken IS in the past decade have been accompanied by similar changes in the roles and responsibilities of the men and women who work in the field. NCC's own annual salary survey has demonstrated over the years how functions that were once thought central to IS have diminished in importance to the point of disappearance, while completely new functions have appeared and flourished (1). Technologically, the biggest changes have been the rise of packaged software, the spread of networking, and the development of the Internet. Consequently, the profile of skills and experience required within most IT departments has also changed. Today's new entrants are more likely to benefit from expertise in Visual Basic or Java than in RPG3 or even Cobol.

If nothing else, the millennium bug demonstrated how far the IS profession has moved in a few short years. But while technological change has swept away old certainties at the lower end of the profession's career ladder, a few rungs up its effect has been revolutionary. Managers, senior executives and Chief Information Officers (CIOs) have had to learn entirely new skills. They have not been required to adopt the managerial equivalent of swapping one programming language for another, or learning how to configure workstations rather than terminals. They have, instead, been required to change their jobs completely.

The very concept of a CIO indicates how far the change has progressed. In moving from data and data processing to information and information management, the IS professional has also moved from the periphery to the centre of his or her organization. Here, the function is different. In a nutshell, today's IS professional is a manager first and a technologist second. In an information- or knowledge-driven enterprise, the IS professional no longer simply supervises the delivery of technological support for business processes; instead, he or she is increasingly responsible for delivering the processes themselves.

This Guideline touches on the changes that have overtaken IS departments as a whole, but it concentrates on the aspects of these changes that have affected management - and particularly senior management - most.It should be seen as complementary to previous Guidelines, particularly those covering succession strategies, flexible working and other human resources issues (2). New entrants and old stagers alike will be concerned about IS management: either they are already doing it or they hope to do it as soon as possible. The demands on IS managers focus increasingly on questions of leadership and organizational effectiveness rather than on the ability to handle or deploy technology. In a rapidly changing environment, all managers must learn to manage change itself.

How IT has changed
It is by now a cliché of organization theory that IT moves through three detectable phases in its application to business. Starting as an instrument for the automation of business processes, it becomes in time a means by which value (in the form of information) is added to those processes, and - ultimately - the vehicle of transformation for business processes and businesses themselves. These phases are often referred to by the grammatically incorrect rubric: Automate, Informate, Transform (3).

The rise of e-commerce - or, more particularly, the rise of the data communications technologies that make e-commerce possible - has foregrounded the transformative potential of IT. While e-commerce itself remains a rather insignificant activity representing less than one per cent of GDP even in the US, according to the Financial Times (4), it seems to prove the contention of many that technology is actually changing businesses - not just in the way that they do things but in what they do. We have moved from the instrumentality of 'information superhighways', through the rather vague notions of 'the information society' and 'the knowledge economy' to something specifically focused on business itself. If we really do live in 'the dotcom economy', then we have to thank IT for making it possible.

The change from data processing to information systems is well-documented. Less understood is the way that the approach to information systems has changed. Nearly two decades ago, a dictionary definition of 'information system' read:

'A computer-based system with the defining characteristic that it provides information to users in one or more organizations. Information systems are thus distinguished from, for example, real-time control systems, message-switching systems, software engineering environments, or personal computing systems.' (5).

Today, the idea of excluding personal computers from the definition of information systems is unthinkable. Indeed, the dictionary definition goes on to argue that 'the term [information system] could have a very much wider meaning than that suggested' (6). It then identifies five important characteristics of information systems:

'(a) Their environment is complex, not fully definable and not easily modeled
(b) They have a complex interface with their environment, comprising multiple inputs and outputs
(c) The functional relationships between inputs and outputs are structurally, if not algorithmically, complex
(d) They usually include large and complex databases (or, in future, knowledge bases)
(e) Their "host" organizations are usually highly dependent on their continuing availability over very long periods, often with great urgency attending their initial provision or subsequent modification' (7)

This aspect of dependency has become central to our understanding of information systems. Concepts such as the management information system (MIS) and the decision support system (DSS) have refined the idea of dependency by situating it in the relationship between managers and decision-makers and the data they access through information systems. In brief, we can distinguish between a data processing system and an information system by observing how deeply embedded within the enterprise the system is.

With the arrival of e-commerce, this embedding moves to another level, for the dotcom economy is characterised by the way information systems have grown to encompass product as well as process. And that applies whether a business sells information or widgets, because the real lesson of the new economy is that - to a greater or lesser degree - every business is its own product. Whether 'dotcommerce' provides a sustainable model for a business or an economy is, of course, a different matter.

The IS professional's role
The IS professional must sometimes feel buffeted by waves of technological fashion. At bottom, he or she is the person who has to deliver the promises of the new economy. In little more than a decade, IS professionals have seen their territory move from the shabby under-resourced outskirts of the enterprise to its very heart. They have spent years complaining - with justification - that nobody appreciated the importance of IS to the business only to wake up one morning and discover that - more or less - IS is the business. Meanwhile, their roles and responsibilities have been slowly changing all the time.

As PCs entered and spread through the business, the IS professional's job became increasingly focused on the relationship with end-users. In business, IT has always been at least as much about providing a service as managing technology. But over the years, the nature of the service has changed.

In the mainframe era, the service was circumscribed by the limitations and unfamiliarity of the technology. IS professionals were isolated by their technical expertise but were required only to provide efficient support for business processes - at first, automating tedious clerical tasks and subsequently meeting well-defined requests for information. The environment was simple with simple - and simply related - inputs and outputs.

By contrast, the proliferation of PCs within organizations created a complex information systems environment with often chaotic inputs and outputs. To the extent that end-users became familiar with the technology and technology-vendors believed (and believe) themselves to be operating within a mass market, the limitations of the systems were less to do with the technology than with the relationship between technology and user.

In the pursuit of 'user-friendliness', desktop computers became more-and-more geared to symbolic rather than numeric processing. The question was always 'What can we do with this system?' and not 'What does this system do?'. Suddenly, IS professionals had to engage with end-users, help to define and formulate their requirements and help them manage their own technology. In effect, they began to shape business processes. At the same time, they had to negotiate new and rapidly developing forms of technological complexity. The result was that they were torn between two worlds - facing both a volatile technological landscape and an uncertain business environment.

All this has changed the character of the IS professional's job. Low down the career ladder, individuals must acquire new skills and - more importantly - must cultivate flexibility. The problem is to distinguish between flexibility and faddishness, particularly when a three or four year computer science degree may be out-of-date before it is completed.

Although very little research seems to have been undertaken in this area, anecdotal evidence suggests that student perceptions of IS have changed dramatically in the last decade, probably for the same reason that some universities are frantically developing new courses and new approaches to teaching IT - there is market value in fashionable technologies and the more fashionable the technologies the higher the value. However, this tendency to follow the market may lead to a destructive short-termism. We know of one university which recently dropped a requirement for all students to learn a particular programming language in order to focus on Java half way through the passage of an intake.

Nevertheless, the changes are real enough. A few years ago, IS was seen predominantly as an 'engineering' discipline. It was a pleasant irony that many employers preferred to cultivate arts and humanities graduates for IS positions, arguing that creativity was more important than technical ability. Students assumed they would enter the career as programmers and would, if lucky, progress through analyst to consultant to manager. They would probably remain within IS and IS was perceived as a machine- rather than human-focused activity. Such attitudes may help to explain the periodic warnings of skills shortages even during periods of economic growth when the demand for IT specialists was high (8).

Thanks to PCs and the Internet, these attitudes seem to have changed. The growing demand for end-user support staff, web site developers, and business analysts within the IS function has changed more than the perception of IS. Today's IS staff will probably have to deal with human beings rather more than they deal with machines, they may be drawn from a wide range of disciplines taking in the arts, humanities, sciences, and general management and their careers are increasingly likely to cross and recross the boundaries between IS and other business areas: financial management, human resources management, product development.

At the top of the career ladder, the IS professional's role increasingly involves negotiation at its core. The old structures and certainties of mainframe-era IS have more-or-less disappeared, to be replaced by an environment characterised - as much as anything - by the need for definition and discovery: What do customers want? What does the business know? How can we help end-users collaborate more effectively? What IT-enhanced products should we develop?

Given the growing importance of IS in business, it is curious that so little empirical study has been made of exactly how the role of senior IS professionals has changed. However, the research that has been undertaken indicates that such IS professionals face a situation in which 'operational responsibilities are decreasing' (9). Instead, these people have to assume the sort of leadership roles common among managers in all areas of an enterprise.

It is difficult to resist the conclusion that the penetration of IT within organizations has encouraged barriers of responsibility and status to break down. A previous Guideline discussed the fact that this breakdown was itself a potential source of conflict (ref to flex working). However, it is also potentially very productive.

Leadership functions
Organization theorist Harvey Mintzberg's typology of management functions seeks to classify the characteristic roles of managers in any organization. Earlier typologies describe typical managerial roles such as directing, planning, coordinating and innovating. Mintzberg's typology goes beyond mere listing to provide the foundation of a management model which has become the most widely used in this area:

1. Informational function
This category covers all the information-related activities associated with management, including gathering information from outside the organization and from superiors, colleagues and subordinates within it, and distributing information outside of and within the organization. The manager acts as an information receiver, processor and transmitter.

2. Decisional function
The manager is a decision-maker and as such may fill a number of roles: as a formal authority who 'yeas or nays' policies and actions, as 'an entrepreneur' who initiates and guides change, as a controller who responds to external change, and as a negotiator who organizes and allocates resources. The manager acts to authorise, propose, respond to and facilitate change.

3. Interpersonal function
The manager is part of a team and an enterprise, but is not subsumed by them. As such he or she must lead, and be seen to lead. In this sense, the manager is a communicator, promoting team and enterprise values. He or she stands for the team within the enterprise and stands for the enterprise in the outside world. In brief, the manager symbolises an organization and its values, and connects the organization to the world. (10)

These are pretty generic functions, with little specific to IS. But some recent research suggests that, under the influence of technological developments, the IS profession is beginning to apportion or interpret these functions differently. A survey of 168 IS managers in Norway (all members of the Norwegian Computing Society) asked respondents to assess how much time they spent in each of Mintzberg's three functions, using a scale of one to six (from little time to a great deal - a so-called 'Likert scale'). The replies were cross-tabulated against the length of time the respondent had been in a senior IS management post. 'Established IS leaders' were defined as those who had been at IS manager level for more than two years, 'new IS leaders' were those with two years or less experience. The results reveal a definite trend towards the informational function, indicating perhaps that new IS leaders are keenly aware of the need to keep abreast of organizational, economic and technological developments (11).
IS leadership roles
A more precise focus on IS leadership is given by the six leadership roles defined by Computer Science Corporation in 1996 (12). While these should not be thought of as identifying distinct individuals, the qualities and responsibilities associated with each role are distinctive:

1. Chief architect
Responsible for high-level design and development of IT systems and infrastructure to meet the present and future needs of the enterprise. The chief architect must consider both strictly technological and business-related aspects of service provision - for example, he or she may seek to provide both improved network availability and customer relationship management tools.
2. Change leader
Responsible for organizing and managing the resources and processes needed to implement a change programme. The change leader must provide both the IT tools and the organizational environment necessary to ensure that change will be smooth and effective.
3. Product developer
Responsible for initiating and trialling new applications of IT within the enterprise. The product developer draws no specific distinction between internal and external applications - the former broadly correspond to what we conventionally describe as business processes (for example, stock replenishment), while the latter may correspond to services (for example, on-line catalogues) - and is less concerned with the success or failure of an application than with improving the process of innovation itself.
4. Technology provocateur
Responsible for ensuring that developments within IT and the IT market inform business strategy. The technology provocateur must display the characteristics of a hybrid manager - equally at home with IT and general management, aware of all the strategic issues likely to affect an enterprise and its operations, and capable of formulating proposals designed to align IT and business strategy. The technology provocateur is the voice of the IS department within the enterprise.
5. Coach/mentor
Responsible for staff development and recruitment within the IT function. The coach/mentor is concerned with staff training programmes and the stimulation of self-sufficiency and resourcefulness within staff. He or she formulates and implements the strategies designed to deliver the right IS-related skillsets within an enterprise. This may involve team-building, the introduction of flexible working, succession planning, and the development of 'centres of excellence'. The coach/mentor is directly responsible for staff development, and as such needs to be competent across a range of skills, even though he or she is not necessarily a pedagogue.
6. Chief operating strategist
This role is probably identified with chief information office or CIO. The chief operating strategist is responsible for formulating policy, direction and targets for the IS department as a whole. Inevitably, this cannot be done without close collaboration with business strategists and managers. The chief operating strategist is a hybrid manager and requires a good understanding of IT and the IT market but, unlike the technology provocateur, the essential task of such a person is to translate business strategy into IS strategy. The chief operating strategist is the voice of the enterprise within the IS department.

The roles described above are CSC's; the definitions, however, are ours. The roles are defined by whether they focus primarily on IT or enterprise issues, whether they operate predominantly at departmental or enterprise level, and whether they initiate or respond to change. We have summed up the situation that CSC's typology describes below:

Role: Focus/Organization level/Change
Chief architect: IT/Enterprise/Respond
Change leader: IT/IT department/Initiate
Product developer: IT/Enterprise/Initiate
Technology provocateur: IT/Enterprise/Initiate
Coach/mentor: IT department/IT/Respond
Chief operating strategist: Enterprise/Enterprise/Respond
Table 1: Defining IS roles (Source: CSC/NCC, 2000)

The CSC typology could be compared to others, notably that formulated by D.F. Feeny in the 1997 study, 'The Five Year Learning of Ten I/T Directors':

 Technical virtuoso - focus on technology, technical infrastructure and technical competence
 Relationship builder - build relationships with senior management, within department, across organisation and with relevant outside parties, and develop shared business/IT understanding
 Systems thinker - position IT within the larger context of the business, and plan and support business development, business transformation and business process re-engineering in a holistic manner
 Supply manager - focus on IT delivery and operations (13)

Feeny's categories correspond quite neatly to CSC's, as shown in Table 2a, with the obvious problem that Feeny's 'relationship builder' covers a number of the CSC categories. In a sense, this is less of a problem than it might appear, since it appears that change leader, coach/mentor and chief operating strategist are probably the roles most frequently assigned to a CIO. The comparison in Table 2 therefore provides an interesting illustration of how CIOs are increasingly seen as focusing on relationships and not on technology.

Technical virtuoso/[Chief architect]
Relationship builder/[Change leader, Coach-mentor, Chief operating strategist]
Systems thinker/[Technology provocateur]
Supply manager/[Product developer]
Table 2: A comparison of IS leadership role definitions (Source: Feeny, 1997/ CSC, 1996)

Changing leadership roles
The pioneering study of IS leaders published by Lynda Applegate and Joyce Elam in 1992 found that about half of all new IS executives were external hires, while almost all of the established IS leaders were promoted from within the company (14). These figures assumed the division between new and established at two years, while an external hire was defined as someone who had been with the company for five years or less. Using the same definitions, the Norwegian study cited above revealed that external hires were increasing in IS leadership roles, presumably for the reason that IS leaders are increasingly required to have a broad and recent view of industry and the business environment. For the same reason, there is a trend towards new IS leaders coming from a background with extensive experience in a non-IS function.

The Norwegian survey also looked at the degree to which the theoretical roles identified by CSC characterised each respondent's actual job. As before, these results were cross-tabulated with the length of service of the respondents. The results indicate that new IS leaders see change leadership as the single most important aspect of their jobs. The established IS leaders, by contrast, rated chief operating strategist as the most important aspect of their jobs. While the change leadership role increased most substantially between established and new IS leaders, the product developer role declined most markedly.

What conclusions can we draw from these results? According to our analysis, both the change leadership and the product developer roles focus on technology and require initiative, but the former operates predominantly at the level of the IS department while the latter operates at enterprise level. In other words, and this may run counter to expectation, the newer IS leaders work more closely to the IS department than their established colleagues. In brief, product development focuses on the introduction of new IT applications while change leadership focuses on building an IS organization capable of creating and implementing such applications.

Statistical analysis of Gottschalk's results confirms the finding that the change leader role decreases in importance as the years in current position increase. Statistical analysis of the figures also shows a significant relationship between the number of years an IS leader has spent in his or her current position and the extent to which that leader has responsibility for IS staff and staff development.

Changing leadership responsibilities
Applegate and Elam found that the activities occupying most of the time of new leaders were strategic planning and control, IT architecture management and standards development, and human resource management. Established IS leaders spent most of their time on IT architecture management and standards development, human resource management, and operations. (15)

The Norwegian survey results themselves also show some interesting differences between precise job responsibilities. From the scores for different areas of responsibility, it is possible to infer that new IS leaders are significantly less likely to be responsible for technical infrastructure, computer operations, personnel, and communications networks than their established colleagues. They are significantly more likely to be responsible for bridging strategies, strategic IS planning, and benefits realisation. While new and established IS leaders differed considerably in their length of service and job experience (as one might expect) they both showed the similar characteristics as far as educational level, personal use of technology and relationship with the chief executive.

It's clear from these figures that new IS leaders tend to be less concerned with the mechanics of running the IS function and more concerned with its organization and overall direction. This fits with the findings about change leadership and product development - the new IS leader is not required to get his or hands dirty quite so much as his or her more established colleagues.

The remarkable thing about these findings is that they also reveal that new IS leaders have fallen down the management hierarchy a notch or two, as measured by the number of management levels between them and the CEO. This runs counter to the received wisdom that organizations are flattening and new IS leaders increasingly reporting direct to CEOs.

Other surveys over the years among different communities of IS managers have shown a consistent trend towards such direct reporting and the glitch in this most recent survey may be explained by a particularly high level of IS outsourcing in the Norwegian economy.

IS management issues
The focus of today's IS leaders is more on strategy and change than on operations and performance. In other words, the requirement for an IS department today is increasingly to deliver a framework for growth not a system that works. Of course, that's an overstatement - a system that is adaptable but doesn't work is useless - but it points up an important characteristic of IS in its transformative guise. It is no longer acceptable to deliver systems and applications that lock businesses into particular activities and fixed ways of doing things. The critical change in the IS professional's working environment is the change from delivering solutions per se to creating and maintaining the organization and processes by which solutions can be delivered. But just because the IS professional's role has changed is no reason to conclude that old practices and procedures are no longer valid. Today's IS professional must, in a sense, incorporate yesterday's values, functions, and responsibilities into a new model.

This means that the IS professional must understand three things:

 The way his or her organization meets the demands of its environment (so-called 'strategic fit')
 The way the environment may be changed to meet the demands of the organization (so-called 'strategic intent')
 When to choose between responding to the environment and initiating change

Meeting the demands of the environment requires an understanding of the following factors:

 the enterprise and its objectives
 the threats and opportunities present in the environment (both within and outside the enterprise)
 the capabilities of the IS function, its strengths and weaknesses
 the mechanisms by which change can be effected within the enterprise

Changing the environment requires an understanding of the following factors:

 the strategic direction of the enterprise
 the competencies within the IS function
 the alignment between IS and business strategy
 the potential of IT to change the environment

It is possible to utilise graphical tools, matrices and tables to help clarify these analyses, but knowing when to respond to the environment and when to initiate change is a much less scientific discipline. This requires a good eye for the likelihood of success and - perhaps - a willingness to take risks. The focus for the assessment is often the market within which the enterprise operates. Awareness of markets is increasingly a demand on IS professionals, particularly within enterprises adapting to or adopting e-commerce. The IS professional must consider the markets addressed by the enterprise in terms of customer needs and wants, the characteristics of products and services, and the role of IT in the production, delivery and marketing of products and services. It is often useful to produce a conventional strategic business unit (SBU) analysis assessing the status of products and services in terms of their current and potential marketability. This can help to identify where investment might be justified and how it can be financed.

In the longer term, any enterprise operating in a competitive market must look for competitive advantage. Conventionally, IT has two roles in producing and sustaining competitive advantage:

 IT can be used to reduce costs
 IT can be used to add value to products and services in order to differentiate them

Today, in the context of e-commerce in general and the Internet in particular, these two are joined by a third, which no business can afford to ignore:

 IT can be used to create entirely new products and services

There is still great confusion about how important the third role is. Some Internet businesses use the Internet as little more than an extension of traditional marketing activities. In these cases, the IS department should respond to the demands of the business. Other Internet businesses see the Internet as a means of creating new 'products' (these may actually be services rather than products, but the distinction is unclear). In these cases, the IS department can assume the mantle of innovator and may attempt to change the internal business environment and the markets in which it operates.

How to become a CIO
As long ago as 1992, a survey of 64 CIOs - defined as the senior managers within an IS department - found that only 30 per cent had a technical background while 33 per cent had a business background. The rest - 37 per cent - had a 'hybrid' background (16). Among this sample, business skills were clearly considered more important that technical ones. The trend which values business over technical experience at the higher reaches of the IS function has continued, and the growing emphasis on change management as the key IS leadership role supports this conclusion. According to Tom Brier, articulating IBM's view, 'Companies are increasingly selecting the top IS executive on the basis of general management skills, rather than on narrow technical expertise.' (17).

The underlying reason for this seems to be the perception of IT as a whole. In 1994, Michael Earl and Bloke Feeny argued that 'The CIO’s ability to add value is the biggest single factor in determining whether the organization views IT as an asset or a liability.' (18) Today, the situation has reversed. Whether IT is an asset or liability is no more debatable than whether a telephone system is an asset or a liability. That being the case, CIOs are chosen precisely to add value according to the organization's perception. In other words, a non-business oriented CIO will 'clash' with the way IT is perceived in most organizations today. One or other will have to go - the CIO or the organization's reliance on IT systems. This is a no-brainer.

According to Feeny's view, based on in-depth analysis of ten 'IT Directors', the CIO can succeed through a combination of simple management stratagems:

 Make the right management appointments
 Establish a regime appropriate to the organization
 Build healthy relationships within the organization as a whole
 Be constantly alert to the environment
 Cultivate a business orientation (19)

While these may be simple stratagems, they are not quite so simple to translate into action. More to the point, they provide a near-universal recipe for management. To be fair, it should be apparent from the section above on IS leadership roles that Feeny's analysis does accept that CIOs have particular responsibilities which set them aside from other managers.

When in 1995/96 the Singapore National Computer Board asked CIOs themselves what their most important characteristics were, they emphasised non-technical skills, notably:

 Identifying, analysing and planning business solutions to problems
 Organising and managing IT projects
 Managing customer relations
 Negotiating business deals with customers
 Leading and managing organisational changes (20)

The CIOs interviewed in this study identified the following critical success factors in their jobs:

 'Possession of requisite business knowledge and acumen
 Being versatile and nimble
 Maintaining a level of technical competence
 Ability to manage, interact and motivate staff
 Good working relationships with bosses, peers, staff and external parties' (21)

One of them pointed out the problem inherent in emphasising business skills to the exclusion of all else when he observed that it was essential to maintain a certain level of technical competence 'otherwise any executive could do my job ' (22). Nevertheless, the consensus was that motivating staff and building good working relationships (formal and informal) were critical to the successful fulfillment of their function.

Panel survey
This month's panel survey was mailed out to 89 members of NCC's Skills Panel. Our main interest in this survey was to find out something about the coaching/mentoring role, in particular to what extent IS professionals felt themselves responsible for the development of the staff below them.

From the small number of responses (about eight per cent) we can immediately conclude that IS skills development is not widely seen as a specific leadership role. Not surprisingly, coaching/mentoring was the only role shared by all respondents regardless of their level, length of service or the number of people reporting to them.

We asked our respondents to indicate which of 11 activities that their jobs involved. Table 3 shows the frequency of replies.

Role(Percentage of respondents)
Coaching /mentoring (100)
Change management (71)
Delighting end-users (71)
Managing IS professionals (57)
Managing service provision (57)
Team building (57)
Negotiating contracts (43)
Developing IS strategy (43)
Developing corporate strategy (29)
Market analysis/marketing (29)
Building competitive advantage (29)
Table 3: IS leadership activities (Source: NCC, 2000)

Obviously, our sample was skewed, and these figures should be read in conjunction with another result. The number of roles indicated by respondents correlates very well with seniority. Respondents with the titles Head of IS, Head of IT, and Operations Director scored nine out of 11 possible roles. Respondents with the titles IT Security Manager and IT Training Manager scored five out of 11 possible roles. Other respondents with titles indicating lower levels of management seniority and who were not responsible for managing other staff scored two out of 11 possible roles. Breaking down the responses further suggests that the two roles that precisely define senior IS leaders (that is the roles that they and they alone undertake) are developing IS strategy and negotiating contracts.

There appears to be no correlation between the roles and other variables, such as length of service or whether they were hired from within or outside the organization, but the responses were predominantly from people who had been hired internally and had been in post less than a year. These facts certainly seem to support the contention that there are differences in the approach of new and established IS leaders, but we do not have enough evidence to be more precise than that. One point worth noting is that only one respondent claimed to have any input into general corporate strategy development. This seems a surprising finding and given that our responses came from a wide range of different employers in different areas of the public and private sectors, a potentially worrying one.

All research seems to indicate that IS leaders at every level are increasingly focusing on issues such as change management and coaching and mentoring. The more senior an IS leader is the more responsibilities he or she will have, and it seems clear that the responsibilities that distinguish CIOs and other top-ranking IS leaders from the rest are those that focus on strategy and business relationships.

Increasingly, senior IS professionals must be able to demonstrate a broad business perspective, and the higher they are in the hierarchy, the broader that perspective must be. The demand that IS leaders be brought into the processes of corporate strategy development is increasingly being met as IT becomes ever more central to the basic operations and future growth of enterprises. While technical expertise is ever more tightly focused among new entrants to IS, potential and existing IS leaders must acquire broader management oriented skills and experience if they are to advance. Individuals may wish to undertake personal courses of study, but the IS department within any enterprise must make management training an essential ingredient of its staff development programme. Experience or an understanding of management issues should also be looked for in new recruits.

1. See NCC Salary Survey, NCC, Manchester, 1990 et passim.
2. See in particular, reports on 'Succession Strategies', NCC, Manchester, 1999, and 'Flexible working', NCC, Manchester, 1999
3. Zuboff, S., 'In the Age of the Smart Machine', Heinemann Professional Publishing, Oxford, 1988
4. Grande, C. and Campbell, K., 'Incentives to get companies online', Financial Times, London, 22 March 2000
5. Illingworth, V., Glaser, E.L., and Pyle, I.C., (Eds.), Dictionary of Computing, OUP, Oxford, 1983
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Mawhinney, C.H., Cale Jr., E.G., Callaghan, D.R., 'Freshmen expectations of information systems careers versus their own careers', Journal of Information Systems Education, Issue 3, 1990.
9. Gottschalk, P., 'Information systems executives: the changing role of new IS/IT leaders', Norwegian School of Management, 2000.
10. Mintzberg, H., 'Rounding out the manager's job', Sloan Management Review, 36 (1), 1994
11. Gottschalk, P., op.cit.
12. New IS leaders, CSC Index Research, London, 1996
13. Feeny, D., 'The five year learning of ten I/T directors', in Willcocks, L., Feeny, D. and Islei, G., (Eds.), 'Managing IT as a Strategic Resource', McGraw-Hill, Maidenhead, 1997
14. Applegate, L.M and Elam, J.J., 'New information systems leaders: a changing role in a changing world', MIS Quarterly, 16 (4), 1992
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid.
17. Brier, T., 'So you want to be a CIO', IBM, 1998
18. Earl M., and Feeny, D., 'Is your CIO adding value?', Sloan Management Review, 35 (3), 1994
19. Feeny, D., op.cit.
20. IT manpower and skills inventory survey 1995, National Computer Board, Singapore, 1996
21. Periasamy, K.P. and Seow, A., CIO: business executive or technical expert?, Institute of Systems Science, National University of Singapore, 1998
22. Ibid.

Key Points

Changes in IT such as the rise of packaged software, the spread of networking and the development of the Internet mean that the profile of skills and experience required within most IT departments has also changed

We can distinguish between a data processing system and an information system by observing how deeply embedded within the enterprise the system is. With the arrival of e-commerce, this embedding moves to another level, for the dotcom economy is characterised by the way information systems have grown to encompass product as well as process

The demands on IS managers focus increasingly on questions of leadership and organizational effectiveness rather than on the ability to handle or deploy technology

Low down the career ladder, individuals must acquire new skills and - more importantly - must cultivate flexibility

At the top of the career ladder, new IS leaders tend to be less concerned with the mechanics of running the IS function and more concerned with its organization and overall direction

A number of different typologies of management functions, relevant to IS, have been developed in recent years. According to academic research, new IS leaders are distinguished from their established colleagues by a greater emphasis on informational functions, relationship building and change leadership

Research evidence suggests that IS leadership posts are increasingly being filled by external hires from a background with extensive experience in a non-IS function

The critical change in the IS professional's working environment is the change from delivering solutions per se to creating and maintaining the organization and processes by which solutions can be delivered

In the past, a CIO’s ability to add value determined whether an organization viewed IT as an asset or a liability. Today, IT is increasingly recognised as indispensable and CIOs are chosen precisely to add value according to the organization's perception. That is why they need to demonstrate a broad understanding of business issues and general management

IS leaders at every level see coaching and team building as essential tasks

The more senior an IS leader, is the more responsibilities he or she will have, and the responsibilities that distinguish CIOs and other top-ranking IS leaders from the rest are those that focus on strategy and business relationships

Key Issues

Nine things that IS leaders need to understand

 the enterprise and its objectives
 the threats and opportunities present in the environment (both within and outside the enterprise)
 the capabilities of the IS function, its strengths and weaknesses
 the mechanisms by which change can be effected within the enterprise
 the strategic direction of the enterprise
 the competencies within the IS function
 the alignment between IS and business strategy
 the potential of IT to change the environment
 what to change and what to leave alone

Sunday, September 09 2001