Why there should be no such thing as an IT project

IT is not an island: CIOs reveal the secrets to successful business projects...

...be trusted in terms of commercial acumen: "Many CIOs do not develop a business-focused view on work," he says.

In terms of his own approach, Hrycyk says he goes out of his way to understand "numbers and budgets". Look credible, and operate with a degree of commercial acumen, and you can start building the right type of vocabulary - and exchange - with executive peers: "The success of a CIO depends on the relationships with colleagues around the board table. You must look at IT through a business lens," he says.

The focus on figures is unlikely to diminish, with growth in IT budgets expected to stay flat during 2010. Gartner expects a global increase in technology spending this year of just 1.3 per cent compared with 2009 levels.

Such constrained budgets leave the analyst to suggest that every CIO needs to understand the requirements of the business, using IT to raise productivity and create new capabilities. It is a theme that chimes with soon-to-be released research from IT networking organisation CIO Connect, which shows there is a considerable disconnect between CIO and FD perceptions of technology.

About three-quarters of CIOs make IT spending decisions but nearly all these IT leaders are influenced by the thoughts of their FD. More worryingly, a fifth of FDs - most of whom have a significant influence over IT spending - have a negative view of technology and regard IT as a necessary evil or a drain on finances.

Exerting the right kind of influence over technology-spending decisions means CIOs must recognise that buy-in for business projects from executive peers is essential.

After nine years as a technology chief, Orange Business Services CIO Vincent Kelly has clear views on where he believes some of his CIO peers might be missing a trick: "When things go wrong, it's often governance and a lack of buy-in that can be traced as the root cause." Technology-driven projects, he adds, will not work without stakeholder contribution.

"Success here is about 'we' - it's about whether something is usable at the executive level. IT doesn't decide what IT will do; we respond to the business and ensure the right governance is in place," he says.

Establishing the right boundaries will help you show how technology can drive change. And there is hope. Kelly says he and his colleagues at Orange Business Services have worked hard to show how a collaborative approach can reap rich dividends.

"The perception of IT has changed a lot," says Kelly. "IT governance for us works alongside the products of particular business units. We work alongside operations to ensure all the right people have a particular stake in a project. IT is all about teamwork; it's about people and it's expert-based."

The message, then, is simple: IT is not an island. If you want to be a successful CIO, you will need to focus on outcomes and work with peers to implement cost-effective business projects that meet clearly defined demands.

By Mark Samuels

Mark Samuels is a business journalist and editor at IT leadership organisation CIO Connect. He has written for various organisations, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, Guardian Government Computing and Times Higher Education.