The Tech Advantage with E.K. FOLI: Building a strong foundation for ICT leadership


 …prioritising integrity, collaboration and transparency

“Anybody can lead an ICT Department!” she exclaimed. “It isn’t that difficult!” Astonished and amused, I chuckled and protested half-heartedly. “Surely, you can’t be serious,” I retorted. I was certain this statement was made in jest with the sole purpose of antagonising me. Another colleague chimed in, “She’s right. There isn’t much to it.” I froze. Now, they had my full attention.

The three of us had been working together for about 2 months. We had been brought together to assess the processes and systems in an organisation that had uncovered some glaring vulnerabilities that left our client exposed. Not only was I convinced that the statement was wrong, I could not get over the feeling that it was an extremely dangerous view to hold, considering the fact that the CEO of the organisation was relying on our recommendations to make critical decisions.

As I was wont to do at the time, being young and inexperienced, I debated my colleagues for over an hour with no resolution. I have since had the opportunity to observe various leaders and concluded that great Information and Communication Technology (ICT) leadership is not dependent solely on technical capabilities, but instead ethically rooted, compassionate, and emotionally intelligent team builders with a voracious appetite for learning in a continuously evolving industry.

This article will attempt to provide a template for what I believe is an approach CEOs can use to replicate success by prioritising integrity as the foundation for forming their ICT teams.

The Role of the CEO

Imagine, for a second, you wake up and find yourself as the head of an institution needing transformational change. You recognise your ICT team’s pivotal role in facilitating all tasks performed by every member of the organisation. A weak team will create chaos and inefficiency across the institution.

Choosing the right leader falls squarely on your shoulders; but how do you, a non-technical person, assess the competence of a potential head of ICT candidate? The rulers of the great kingdoms of antiquity have always had trustworthy advisors; likewise, you would be best served finding a consultant you can trust.

Qualities of a great consultant

While great IT consultants come in various flavours, I have found that the most useful and, by extension, most successful consultants to non-technical people are often great teachers. In contrast to those who tend to overuse jargon to obfuscate concepts and mask processes, the best consultants I have had the pleasure of working with would often take the time to break ideas or concepts down to their most digestible morsels for the benefit of their clients.

These professionals are often not intimidated by the presence of other experts and would not isolate the CEO or other stakeholders to get their points accepted. They are open to scrutiny and are transparent about their thought processes and the reasoning behind their recommendations. They prioritise their reputation over the pursuit of money and often have an intellectual tilt while paying attention to the bottom line of the institution they work for.

As a CEO, you need to find such consultants to help you start your search for a Head of your ICT Department.

Integrity above all

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for finding a Head of ICT. The best candidate to head an ICT team would depend on the peculiarities of the team as currently constructed, the strength of processes and systems that exist, and the culture that you, the CEO, would like to instill going forward. This is where your consultants play a crucial role. Their ability to facilitate your assessment of the department’s needs will catapult your search in the right direction.

It would be best to have a solid infrastructure, networking, systems administration, software development, and help desk teams. However, the ethical foundation of your ICT team would be what is most rigorously tested in the months and years to come. Regardless of the policies adopted and implemented, a weak ethical compass in your team poses the biggest threat to profits and the success of your agenda as CEO.

No perfect system exists, so you often rely on your ICT team to discover, expose and fix weaknesses and vulnerabilities in your IT infrastructure. The wrong ethical foundation will leave you with a team that takes advantage of these lapses to the organisation’s detriment.

I have observed that the integrity of the Head of ICT is the most essential factor to consider, even before technical expertise. A technically competent Head of ICT with questionable integrity, driven by self-preservation, may be tempted to use the systems to their benefit. They may opt for expensive solutions when cheaper ones would suffice, or even cripple the IT infrastructure at critical periods to gain power and influence within the organisation.

Collaborators drive productivity

Organisations suffer when departments work in silos. This is amplified when the IT Department operates in isolation from other business functions. Your business will thrive on seamless integration and synergy across departments, and the Head of ICT plays a crucial role in fostering these relationships.

Embracing collaboration is no longer just an option; it is a strategic imperative that will enable your organisation to maximise the potential of its technological investments and gain a competitive edge in the market.

A Head of ICT who actively engages with other departments can better understand their specific needs, challenges and goals. By choosing a true collaborator in this role, they can align ICT strategies with broader organisational objectives, ensuring that technology solutions enhance overall efficiency and productivity. The input from different stakeholders also enables the Head of ICT to identify potential overlaps or redundancies in existing systems, streamline processes, and optimise resource allocation.

Moreover, collaboration between the ICT Department and other areas of the organisation sparks innovation. The exchange of ideas, perspectives and expertise from diverse fields cultivates an environment that encourages creativity and problem-solving.

A Head of ICT who acts as a collaborator becomes a driving force behind the organisation’s digital transformation, identifying emerging technologies and implementing innovative solutions that lead to growth and increased profitability.

Embracing collaboration also creates a culture of continuous learning, where employees from various departments can share knowledge and acquire new skills, fostering a dynamic and adaptive organisation.

By actively engaging with other departments, aligning ICT strategies with broader business goals, and fostering a culture of innovation, a collaborative Head of ICT can empower their organisation to leverage technology’s full potential, thus driving success and enhancing efficiency.

Transparency builds trust

The icing on the cake of collaboration is transparency. Technology plays a pivotal role in driving innovation, productivity and competitiveness, making it crucial for the Head of ICT to have an open and transparent line of communication with the CEO. Through consistently transparent dialogue, you can align your visions, identify strategic opportunities, and make informed decisions that leverage technology’s full potential to steer the company toward success.

Effective decision-making requires a comprehensive understanding of the organisation’s technological capabilities and limitations. A transparent working relationship between the Head of ICT and the CEO facilitates an open exchange of insights, challenges and opportunities. By being honest about the potential risks and benefits of various technology initiatives, the Head of ICT can empower the CEO to make well-informed choices that support the company’s overall goals. Additionally, the CEO can provide the necessary support and resources for implementing cutting-edge solutions that drive growth and elevate the business’ competitive advantage.

Transparent collaboration between you and your Head of ICT will foster a culture of trust and accountability. When both of you are on the same page, it encourages seamless communication across all levels of the organisation. Employees feel confident that their technological needs are being heard and addressed at the top level, increasing morale and productivity. Transparent decision-making also reduces the chances of costly misunderstandings or missteps, ensuring that technology initiatives are aligned with the company’s strategic direction.

Actions of a Head of ICT

Assuming the Head of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) role, your primary focus should be establishing a solid foundation for your success. The first step should be to align your vision with the CEO’s. By clearly understanding the CEO’s agenda and the organisation’s overarching goals, you can develop a roadmap, leveraging technology to drive success. Open communication and regular meetings with the CEO are essential to ensure that your ICT initiatives are closely intertwined with the company’s objectives.

One of your primary responsibilities as Head of ICT is consistently identifying and engaging all stakeholders. Internal stakeholders, including employees, managers and key decision-makers, play a vital role in shaping the success of your ICT initiatives. By identifying their personalities, talents and penchants, you can create a cohesive, high-performing ICT team that complements one another’s strengths. Put together a team to conduct a comprehensive review of existing policies and, if necessary, create new ones to ensure that your department operates efficiently and adheres to best practices.

Understanding the needs and expectations of different departments within the organisation is a necessary precondition for your success. Create a roadmap with your team that addresses their unique technological requirements to foster a sense of partnership, enabling you to deliver tailored solutions. Regular communication and engagement events with each department further solidify the bond between your ICT team and other departments, encouraging a culture of cross-collaboration and cooperation.

Beyond internal stakeholders, successful Heads of ICT also recognise the significance of external stakeholders, such as service providers, partners and vendors. Building solid relationships with these entities is vital for gaining access to cutting-edge technology, negotiating favourable contracts and ensuring seamless service delivery. Regularly engaging with external stakeholders lets you stay abreast of industry trends, new technologies and best practices, thus keeping your organisation at the forefront of technological advancements.

In conclusion, succeeding as a Head of ICT requires a multi-faceted approach that involves aligning with the CEO’s vision, building a cohesive and talented ICT team, and engaging consistently with all stakeholders. By understanding and meeting the needs of internal departments and forging strong partnerships with external stakeholders, you can navigate the path to technological leadership effectively.

Embracing collaboration, communication and proactive engagement are the cornerstones of triumph in the dynamic world of ICT leadership.

For me, ICT should stand for Integrity, Collaboration and Transparency. In my opinion, an organisation that embraces this ideology is destined to attain the highest and most elusive levels of success.

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