Creating the Ideal IT Department

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A long-time IT expert and former CIO has written a book that takes a look at the changing role of the CIO and how to build the ideal IT department.

Pretty daunting topics -- but Dean Lane, senior director of information technology at Symantec Corp., says it's time they're tackled. And that's what he does as a first-time author in the book, CIO Wisdom -- Best Practices from Silicon Valley's Leading IT Experts.

Lane, who formerly was the CIO at Allied Signal, Plantronics and the Masters Institute, says CIOs need to get ready for some big changes in their jobs. In this one-on-one interview with eSecurityPlanet, he also talks about the Tao of Leadership and how to create an IT shop that will serve the business and eliminate the age-old 'us versus them' mentality between the suits and the nerds.

Q: Why write this book?
This was driven by the sense that the IT community at large has done a poor job of educating its business counterparts. We hear many things, like, 'We have a project and we can never show the ROI.' There are all these statistics about 70 percent of all projects failing. Part of the reason those things are occurring is because the business people don't understand how the IT organization works. The book has been written as a reference book.

Q: Is there any onus on the business side, or is it up to IT to educate business?
The onus on the business side is to dig down a level. Somebody from the business side is riding on an airplane. They chat with the person next to them who says he saved $2 million for his organization by outsourcing. This guy goes back and calls the CIO and tells him to outsource everything. They're chasing a carrot without understanding the implications... The onus on the IT side is to be proactive. If you're that CIO, you would educate your CFO and CEO about outsourcing. Sit down with them and come up with a plan about what should and shouldn't be outsourced. You've got to have a plan.

Q: Is there more weight on the IT side to form this partnership?
No. It's a partnership between business and the IT community. But I don't think the IT community has done a good job of presenting those things clearly.

Q: How is the role of the CIO changing?
If you look across the landscape of companies, IT typically reports to the CFO or the VP of operations. It's rare to find the CIO at the top level. The information may be muddled because it's going through layers instead of going directly to the CIO... CIOs will definitely have to get used to dealing with the top. It's not unusual in smaller companies to have the CIO do a presentation to the board. It is almost never the case where the CIO is a member of the board, even though it's not unusual to find an engineer or the CFO as a member of the board. The position of CIO in the next five to 10 years will be elevated.

Q: Once that happens, how will the job change? What new skills will they have to master?
They are going to have to understand the business and they will have to be more involved in the strategic planning from the business side... They will have to be ready to be included in the strategic planning of where the business has to go. It will occur as an evolution.

Q: In your book, you talk about the Tao of Leadership. What is that?
What we're trying to say is that you can't just come up with a strategic plan and then expect to lead it. There's more to it than that. In IT, you have to partner with your internal colleagues. You don't have external customers, like they do in marketing or sales. You're a service organization for the rest of the business. The Tao Perspective talks about how you're successful in that position. What is the strategic value of your IT organization? How do you enable the business to be successful? It's not something you can do alone.

Q: Is this related to the 'us versus them' mentality between IT and corporate users?
I'm suggesting that we together have to define needs. We have to work together. We're all here for a common goal, which is to make the business as successful as it can possibly be. If we have an 'us verses them' mentality, then we better tackle that problem first. We have to do that, if we're going to be effective... That mentality is really a silly place to go because everybody is on the same team. It's like sitting in the row boat, pulling out a gun and shooting a hole in the other side and laughing and saying, 'Look! Sharon is taking on water'.

Q: What is the ideal IT organization that you talk about in your book?
The ideal IT organization would be one that is not an obstacle. First of all, everything is running the way it's supposed to be running. Secondly, once you get there you have the ability to ad strategic value, competitiveness and efficiencies. It depends on where an IT organization is in its maturity. Are they focusing on keeping a server from crashing or are they partnering with business help solve a business problem. The ideal would be to be partnered with business.

Q: How do you go about getting there?
You may need to take small steps and build a relationship with business. And you build that relationship by doing things together. If you do one positive project, someone will sit back and say, 'Oooh, that's good. That worked'. Then you'll be willing to do the next one and the next one.

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