HR can help IT find its role in business

The ‘them and us’ attitude towards technology personnel will soon be obsolete – we’ll all be in IT

HR managers must create the right environments for IT departments to flourish if companies are to respond to the demand for innovation in the new economy, claims a report by management consultancy the Concours Group.

"IT is currently seen as an inhibitor rather than an enabler," says European managing director John Cooper. "Our report looks at the key processes in IT and how it can be activated in the right way."

The report, Making IT a Centre of Business Innovation, claims that if a business isn’t innovating, it isn’t in business, and that innovation is increasingly dependent on, if not driven by, IT.

Cooper doesn’t place the sole responsibility of maximising the potential of IT on HR managers, but he points out that many company cultures are counter to IT taking a more strategic role. "In IT, you don’t get many Brownie points for putting the business at risk. You have to get on and do a job, while bemoaning the fact that nobody trusts you.

"IT personnel must be leaders as well as enablers and followers, but it’s a fine balance. Organisations must create an environment in which it’s OK to fail and experiment but it must be sanctioned from the top."

The major findings of the report, carried out exclusively for Concours member companies, reveal that there are two main types of innovation: that which enhances existing skills and competencies and that which destroys or makes them obsolete.

The latter, the actually positive competency destroying innovation, represents new kinds of technologies, products, processes or business models that deliver new value. It offers a challenge for established organisations because the economic and business logic for pursuing them often "flies in the face of the beliefs and values that are core to the success of the traditional business".

Often, such innovation will work better in new business set-ups, such as an offshoot dotcom or spin-off e-division.

"Innovation demands a freedom of foot and sometimes this is best done in separation from the parent company, where HR polices can be different," says Cooper.

Whether as a spin-off or an integrated unit, there is much the HR department can do to help IT staff feel they can have a positive and innovational impact. Cooper admits the profile of an IT person can be one of a loner, and that they like order in their lives – which does not sit comfortably with being a major innovator. "HR must be nimble in accepting that these groups of people are different," he says.

The report places a challenge at HR’s door. "Innovation will not happen by merely tinkering with mission statements or changing incentive schemes and appraisal criteria. It requires a comprehensive and coordinated set of changes, starting with a re-examination of IT purpose and focus, a redefinition of roles, skills and organisational structures, and a reformulation of management and HR practices, values, behaviours and leadership."

Recommendations include encouraging IT leaders and staff to think and act like they are the heads of their own business and that formal and informal leadership development should be provided.

Cooper sees a time when IT will be integrated in the mindset of the workforce. "It will no longer be ‘those blokes in IT’, because we’ll all be in IT – it will be the business."

A management summary of Making IT a Centre of Business Innovation can be obtained by contacting Tessa Ryall at the Concours Group on 020-7535 2805, e-mail: tryall@concoursgroup.com, www.concoursgroup.com

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