I recently attended a meeting of the Rocky Mountain chapter of the AITP (Association of Information Technology Professionals), and the speaker for the evening was Mr. Thomas C. Staab, President of Wind Ridge International LLC, a resource management firm in the Information Technology arena.

He outlined what he saw as ten challenges facing Information Technology leaders in the years to come. Admittedly, these may not be the top ten, and perhaps they’re not your top ten, but rather what he sees as ten primary challenges based upon the experience and insight he’s gained during his years of consulting with CIOs, CTOs, and other technology leaders around the globe. He provided some interesting and valuable information, and some relevant food for thought, not to mention some very pleasant conversation.

What follows is a brief outline of his presentation, integrated with my interpretation on each of his ten points.

  1. Globalization: Virtually every company today must compete globally. Markets are opening up all around the globe. We like to see the benefits of a global economy as it provides a wider customer base and the potential for greater profits, but we must also deal with the reality of increased competition as well. We can’t have one without accepting the other.
  2. Excess Workload: Customers are becoming more demanding, especially as we see a growth in competition. Moreover, these increased expectations are coupled with the reality of lower IT budgets. Providing more service for less money will be a reality we’ll all have to deal with.
  3. Talent: I see this as both a challenge and an opportunity. (Actually, all challenges are only opportunities in disguise, aren’t they?) Demand for science and IT professionals is growing at a 5% annual rate, while those deciding to earn Computer Science related degrees is in a downward trend. Fewer women are choosing IT related positions. There are more specialists and fewer generalists, while the generalists will be more in demand. We’ll be experiencing a greater multi-generational workforce, seeing a greater degree of both younger and older workers in the same fields. All of these things will challenge both recruitment and retention, not to mention the huge numbers of baby-boomers who will be leaving the workforce in large numbers. 
  4. Change: It’s been said that the only constant is change. We’ll be faced with the challenge of finding that perfect balance between keeping up with change and not changing for its own sake. Change is inevitable; and change is good; but the change must be consistent with corporate objectives. Making change work for you will be the challenge.
  5. On-time Performance and Quality: It’s been shown that most companies deliver less than 50% of their projects on time and on budget. A main reason might be the perceived need to establish both the budget and the deadline well before the scope of the project is fully understood. As such, many projects are actually set-up to fail from the very beginning. Moreover, delivering a quality product is (or should be) the goal of the project. All too often quality is compromised for the sake of expediency and profit. We can’t fool ourselves into believing we’re delivering a quality product just because it happens to be on time and on budget. After all, there are two types of quality: quality of fact and quality of perception. Perhaps heeding the words of Edward Deming would be appropriate. “You cannot inspect quality into a product, it is already there.” The challenge will be to avoid letting perceived quality trump quality of fact for the sake of expediency.
  6. Cultural Differences: These might be wider than first imagined when you hear the words “cultural differences”. Of course, there are the differences in nationalities to which we’ve all become accustomed. But there will be greater regional differences as well – east coast versus west coast, for example – when a mobile workforce relocates so it can follow the opportunities. Religious differences and age differences will also play a greater roll. Making the most of them, however, and using them to our advantage will be the challenge.
  7. Outsourcing and Off Shoring: This seems to be our industry’s four-letter word – outsourcing. However, not only is it inevitable, but it’s actually becoming necessary. It’s a corporate fact of life in our growing global economy. Again, using it to our advantage will be the challenge. And while we usually hear only about the outsourcing of jobs from the United States, we rarely hear about the outsourcing of global jobs into the United States. The European company, Airbus, for example, is planning to “outsource” upwards of 10,000 jobs to the United States over the next few years. Outsourcing will definitely become a wider two-way street in the years to come. In fact, it’s likely to become a freeway.
  8. Project Management (Quality of Fact): Managing the right things will be the challenge. Security, risk, and forming partnerships – actually helping partners succeed. Collaboration will become more prevalent and important. I can see signs of this today in my own industry – in the realm of building design. A perfect illustration, in which architects, engineers, and designers will be leveraging and sharing technology to a much greater degree than we have in the past. For example, instead of each discipline delivering separate designs for their particular scope of the project, we’re actually seeing a greater degree of those disciplines working together on the same technological model of the building design. Communication, in this case, and creating successful collaboration partnerships is the key to success.
  9. Meeting Customer Expectation (Quality of Perception): We actually have several customers. We have our external customer, of course, but then we have our internal customers and our business partners. Treating all those we serve and work with as customers will be the challenge, but one that will serve our own needs as well.
  10. Planning: Quality of planning will be the key to success. All too often our planning is superficial, premature, or misdirected. Communication between all levels of management, as well as with our partners, will present a greater challenge.

These are all challenges we will certainly face, or continue to face, in the years and decades to come. And as we face these challenges proactively, with open minds, and by embracing change, working these things to our advantage, the opportunities we’ll find will ultimately result in our success.

Mr. Thomas Staab is a speaker and management consultant. He is planning a book release in the very near future, which will further detail these challenges I’ve outlined. It would be very worthwhile reading for Information Technology leaders.