This Briefing from the Society of IT Management warns heads of ICT that they are not an automatic choice for the new role of digital leader.
Digital leaders appointed so far in central government have tended not to be IT specialists, citing examples of people with backgrounds in banking and local authority management with leadership experience in transformation, efficiency, customer service and marketing.
The Briefing points out that what these individuals have in common is capability and track record in bringing about radical change, and that is exactly what is required, because implementing a digital strategy is about rethinking processes completely from a citizen’s perspective, and not an administrator’s. The Briefing quotes Mike Bracken of the Government Digital Service, saying that digital strategies are as much about changes in skills, capabilities, process and thinking as about technology, and that ‘we will not succeed if the framework of our thinking is technology-led.’
The Briefing recommends that Heads of IT who are keen to take on the digital role need to ‘forget HTML and server farms’ and focus on activity that will gain them credibility in this new and different context. The alternative could be to be to be sidelined as a ‘head of tin and wires’ as cloud services and utility computing ebb away at the perceived value of traditional IT and IT management roles.
A key step is therefore to embrace the challenges with digital delivery, and to find service management colleagues interested in collaborating to transform their service and prepared to take the risks involved in doing so.
Success with these sort of transformational projects, and the necessary exercise of the social, interpersonal and political skills required to make them happen, will help IT heads change their image from technical specialist to broadly skilled digital leader.
It follows that those regarded by other managers in their organisation as technical gurus are unlikely to become digital leaders and that, if they do, by default, they are likely to find the going tough.
However, aspiring digital leaders must not assume that others will recognise their value: they must also learn to promote their achievements. If they do not, there are plenty of able, hungry, and ambitious people out there competing for these roles.
‘Commoditisation, cloud services and instantly productive apps are rapidly diminishing management’s dependency on the ICT function, just the way that it did when the PC age introduced spreadsheets and word processing’ says briefing author Chris Head. ‘This means IT managers need to make a choice, and if they choose to follow the digital route, then they have work to do.’
Digital leader?: it might (not) be you! is available free of charge to Socitm Insight subscribers.