The increasing strategic importance of IT is adding the need for new skill-sets to management roles argues FTdynamo, in the ninth of a series of columns written for HR Zone from the new management education portal.
The role of IT within companies is changing. Advances in technology, such as the internet, the rise of e-commerce and the rate at which companies are adopting an e-business strategy, mean that IT is becoming of strategic, rather than simply functional importance.
As technology permeates all areas of business, the image of a geek with a PC is fast disappearing. IT is being reinvented as an industry that is core to a business’s strategy. Where once the IT staff were simply there to solve problems with computers, they are now finding themselves increasingly called upon to contribute to business strategy and are taking on key professional roles within companies.
To keep up with the pace of technology, managers are finding that they too must adopt a new set of skills, not only combining the human with the technical, but recognising that technology is becoming the real driver of their business strategy. But with many of today’s managers labelled ‘technophobes’, and feeling threatened by a lack of IT understanding, what can companies do to ensure they have multi-skilled managers in place, ready to drive the company forward, embrace new technologies and implement successful e-business strategies?
A first step is to recognise that IT must be seen as a tool for supporting employees, rather than a process that enables work to be completed.
If managers are feeling out of touch with technology, then they must be given the opportunities to retrain and be responsive to change if they are not to lose out to younger, more IT-literate staff. This doesn’t mean knowing all the ins and outs of technology specifications, but learning about technology in a basic sense. This would involve training senior managers to be familiar with all aspects of their PCs, and making sure they keep up to date with new devices, such as personal digital assistants (PDAs – the Psion or Palm Pilot), and wireless technologies.
Managers must also look at their core enterprises, and understand how IT can help their businesses in areas such as keeping costs down, opening new routes to market, creating more efficient supply chains, and helping to improve customer relations.
With the advance in technologies comes the advent of the mobile office, where anyone can be contacted at anytime, anywhere. Technology has opened up new communication routes, and has given companies the opportunity to streamline the information they receive, as well as enabling managers to make decisions while they are on the move.
But if technology is a great enabler, there is also the danger that it can become a distraction. Many businesses have made expensive mistakes in the technology space, in the rush to launch an e-commerce strategy. Take for example natural health retailer The Body Shop, which recently ended its e-commerce joint venture with Softbank Technology Ventures, deciding to take the work in-house. This has delayed the launch of The Body Shop digital lifestyle site in the US by at least six months.
Companies will need to strike the balance between the need to adopt new technologies, while recognising that technology is an enabler, and not an end to itself. What is certain is that the growing pace of technology calls for greater flexibility in companies’ management structures.
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