Definition

IT leadership (information technology leadership)

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Information technology priorities: A guide to TechTarget's annual survey
Contributor(s): Jerry Luftman

IT leadership is the group of senior executives in an organization responsible for the information technology (IT) infrastructure and applications that enable and drive the overarching business strategy and goals. The top IT leader is most frequently referred to the as the chief information officer , or CIO, but at some organizations this responsibility is now shared with a variety of "information chiefs," including the chief digital officer, the chief data officer and the chief analytics officer.

There are many different styles of IT leadership, including servant leadership and paternalistic leadership. Examples of important leadership skills include soft (interpersonal) skills, hard skills and the ability to inspire employees to leverage IT to improve processes.

Strong IT leadership is crucial to aligning IT and the business and is something that evolves as organizations focus more on leveraging IT for revenue generating initiatives and as IT becomes a driver of business change.

Evolving role of IT leadership

As organizations focus more on concepts like social, mobile, analytics and cloud -- or SMAC -- and building a digital enterprise, IT and business are becoming more closely integrated. In addition to more innovative SMAC projects, IT leadership executives are concerned with managing common systems like accounting applications and payroll. But organizations' business leaders are not exempt from needing to understand how to leverage IT.

Indeed, as automation and outsourcing become more mainstream and affordable, IT initiatives like these are increasingly being placed solely in the respective business units. Also, in recent years, as cloud computing has emerged and made it easier for organizations' business units to contract for IT services directly rather than by going through the central IT department, industries are seeing an increase in shadow IT.. In these instances, a business unit takes on certain IT initiatives using hardware or software that is not supported by its organization's IT department. Going hand-in-hand with shadow IT is potentially revolutionary changes being incorporated into ERP (enterprise resource planning), including robotic process automation. These transformations, along with the growing trend of federated IT models, are driving more IT responsibilities and IT leadership roles to departments outside of centralized IT.

All of this makes leaders question whether or not IT organizations will continue to exist separate from business entities.

Six areas driving IT leadership success

Communication is key to successful IT leadership. Here are six communication-related concepts IT leaders should comprehend fully:

  1. IT must understand the business and the business must understand IT.
  2. IT should have effective value measurements that clearly demonstrate its contribution to the business.
  3. IT should create effective strategic, tactical and operational governance processes.
  4. IT needs to foster a partnership between the IT and business stakeholders.
  5. IT must communicate its scope and architecture so business leaders understand the extent of IT's contribution and that the technology is doing an effective job within the four walls of the company and for external clients.
  6. IT leaders should possess take-charge skills as well as IT skills.

To be a successful leader in IT, it is important to recognize that it is a two-way street between IT and the business. IT leaders can't do it on their own even when they have the appropriate skills set and motivation. To complete IT initiatives and make an impact on the overarching business, it takes effective collaboration with business partners within the organization.

This was last updated in July 2015

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