The 5 most dangerous IT management trends in 2006

Here are some trends that could spell the end for an IT manager's career unless he or she is prepared to head them off at the pass.

By Joey Smith

IT managers who lose their jobs usually do so not because of a lack of technical skills, but because of deficits in management, leadership, and strategy skills. In this article, I will talk about some trends that could spell the end for an IT manager's career unless he or she is prepared to head them off at the pass.

Trend One: IT and IT Management Outsourcing

As you may know, outsourcing IT tasks like backups, network monitoring, security and hosting are growing trends. However, don't be deluded into thinking that IT management can't be outsourced. There are people out there using stealth tactics to ride this particular trend right to the office of your president, CFO, and or CEO. They're boasting cost savings and are working ferociously to eliminate you. What can be done about it?

1) Go with the flow and do what's best for the business. You must always do what is best for the business. In doing so, you will stand out as a strategic player and ultimately achieve what no outsourced vendor can accomplish. Since you have to provide value, doing what’s best for the business will allow you to become a partner instead of a line item on the profit and loss sheet.

2) Get out of tactical mode and into strategic mode. Who wins a fight--a fighter with great technique or a fighter with great strategy? The fighter with a great strategy will win every time. Tactics are just tasks or a small part of a larger plan. If you're performing the tasks without the plan, you aren’t really accomplishing anything. A strategy, on the other hand, is doing the right things in order to accomplish an objective or goal. Start doing the right things right and you'll remain valuable to your organization.

Trend Two: IT auditing

In the name of layoffs, cutting costs, aligning IT, mergers, etc., there are more and more IT audits taking place. There's nothing wrong with this growing trend, but if you're not prepared for it, it can lead to trouble. Here's what to do:

1) Facilitate it, don’t fight it. The first thing to do if an audit is announced is to take ownership of the project. Don’t gripe about it. If you do, upper management will feel like you're just looking out for your best interest or that you're trying to hide something. I've worked with IT managers who've lost their jobs fighting an audit even thought I counseled them not to do so. Go with the flow and influence the auditor by showing him or her that you are on board and ready to step up as a strategic player.

2) Do a preliminary audit first. Share your findings, this will influence the audit. As soon as you learn of an audit, start your own right away. As a matter of fact, you should be doing this as a SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) anyway. With a complete audit, you can just hand over your findings to the auditor so he can see what a great job you're doing and that you're on top of all the issues. In turn, the auditor will tell your boss how valuable you are to the business.

Trend Three: Company-wide layoffs

Of all the companies I have worked with so far this year, each and every one has had some sort of layoff. You may not always be successful in staving off a layoff, but these tips may help.

1) Keep a diary of your wins. Each and every time you add value to the company, you should document it right away in this journal. If you receive kudos from other managers or departments, you need to put it in this journal. In the case of a layoff, you’ll have this journal ready to show why laying you off would be a major mistake. You see, it's not that you deserve to be laid off in the first place; it's that there is no documentation for the decision to be made otherwise. In case you get laid off anyway, you’ll have this journal to show to your new employer!

2) Become a strategic partner during the down times and assist management. If you hear of layoffs, and IT is usually the first to know about it, step up to the plate and become a partner and make recommendations. Don’t just sit quietly as a spy, become a partner. Help management save money. Be the first to let go of a piece of your budget in order to assist the company as a whole.

3) Make yourself invaluable to the business. This goes without saying, but if you become a valuable asset to your organization, you won't be in the layoff category. By following each of these tips, you’ll do just that.

Trend Four: Mergers and acquisitions

1) Again, become a partner in the process. Like in the previous trends, you must act first. Don’t wait until it's too late. Volunteer to help with the transition. IT managers who get on the transition team usually find themselves in the new company reorganization. It's about becoming a team player and facilitating the process.

2) Insist on an IT Due Diligence before the buy. If you are already partnered with the business and are a core member of the leadership team, it would be wise for you to recommend a Due Diligence in the realm of IT. If not, this could come back to bite you. Make sure the stakeholders know what they're getting themselves into from an IT standpoint. The more data you can provide, the smoother the transition. Perception and expectations are key to maintaining a healthy respect from your organization. Take strides to manage these well.

3) Get to know the new owners as soon as possible. The first thing on the agenda in a merger is who to keep and who to trade. The first thing I always recommend is to go meet the new owners. Build a relationship with them and share your insights on how the company can be built better than ever with the new merger or acquisition. You'll want to do everything in your power to display your can-do winning attitude. By displaying your value and your attitude, you’ll for sure end up on the "keep" list.

4) If you're the buying company, go visit the other company’s employees. Keep in mind that even if you're on the buying side, it's no guarantee you're on the keep list. Take the initiative and go learn about the other company’s culture, feelings and resources. This will help when it comes time to get your advice about reorganization.

5) Facilitate, facilitate, facilitate! Again, volunteer to help in any way you can.

Trend Five: Removing IT as a strategic role

Just a few years ago, not all business had extended IT capabilities. Business owners saw IT as strategic in order to give their businesses first mover advantage. Now that everyone has IT, businesses no longer see IT as a differentiator. More and more businesses are seeing IT as a necessary evil or commodity rather than a strategy. So how can IT regain its once highly held strategic advantage?

1) Change the commodity mindset through cost-cutting and revenue generating solutions. Remember as an IT manager, you have to be solution oriented. So do what you do best and get to the whiteboard and ask "How can IT facilitate revenue to the company?" For instance, how can IT facilitate the salespeople to make twice as many phone calls? (Predictive dialer, and on and on.) Search for all of the low hanging fruit in your organization.

2) Get out of tactical mode and into strategic mode. Stop fighting fires. This is a symptom of being in a tactical versus strategic mode. Put together a strategy and execute it.

Remember, these trends are dangerous, but strategy, management, and leadership skills will break them down and diffuse their strength. Work on strengthening these three core strengths and you’ll be on the upside of these trends for years to come.

Joey Smith is the President and CIO of Higherhill, Inc. Joey is also the only two-time finalist for the prestigious Georgia CIO of the Year Award and two-time winner for the Microsoft Project of the Year. For more of Joey's IT management insight, tips and tricks take a look at his membership site entitled IT Octane! (URL )