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IT Leaders: 6 Essential Skills to Help Develop Your Team

What happens to efficiency when a multinational corporation does not know when its equipment needs maintenance or restocking? Machine downtime from this lack of knowledge can cost an industrial company millions of dollars a day. However, when energy giant Shell found itself in such a situation, its chief information officer directed the building of an analytics platform to solve the problem.

By running predictive models, Shell started to forecast when the parts of its oil drills might fail, allowing the oil company to order and replace parts before they failed and keep production going. The fix involved combining a collection of software with analytics tools capable of capturing streaming data. Understanding what was needed made it possible for Shell’s IT leadership to dramatically improve the corporation’s inventory analysis and save millions of dollars.

Today, an organization’s sustained growth and success relies heavily on the strategic use of technology. As a result, businesses and organizations depend on IT leaders who can provide vital information about how to leverage technology. For example, a CIO oversees the IT operations within an organization and innovates strategic solutions to problems like the one described above.

Developing both the leadership and the technical expertise needed to lead organizations in the strategic use of technology requires the right education. Tulane University offers an Online Master of Professional Studies in Information Technology Management that trains IT leaders to be prepared to innovate.

The Importance of Effective IT Leaders

IT leaders play a key role in managing how their organizations optimize the ongoing technological advancements in areas such as AI and big data analytics, among others. If businesses and organizations are to stay relevant, they need skilled IT leaders who keep up with the trends in technology and tactically implement them. The never-ending development in technology requires IT leaders to keep their fingers on the pulse of the rapid changes and respond to them with vision and speed.

IT leaders must possess cutting-edge technical training. Knowledge in “big picture” areas like IT governance — frameworks that support the effective use of IT to achieve an organization’s goals — is critical for successful IT leadership. Organizations also depend on professionals with expertise in IT-related legal issues, such as data protection, to both safeguard information and ensure all activities respect privacy laws and avoid costly litigation. In addition to technical skills, IT leaders need to be savvy. Whether they are updating a legacy system or assessing an analytics tool, IT leaders must work strategically. For instance, if a corporate IT team detects a security breach, the decision about how to address the problem will ultimately be escalated to the IT leader, who then must take into account the impact of various solutions before leading employees in any course of action.

Six Essential Skills IT Leaders Need

To work in an environment with fast-emerging digital technologies and transforming organizational models, IT leaders must master key skills.

Sound Decision Making

IT leaders oversee a range of activities in their organizations. Tasks such as managing technological needs, maintaining the security of networks and data, and determining the cost benefit of engaging in an IT project, all demand superior decision-making skills. IT leaders must capably analyze the data available, consider the potential risks, and then determine how to proceed. Poor IT decisions can result in systems failing, security breaches, useless purchases, and overall inefficiency. In addition, planning for an organization’s future in an environment so driven by technology demands the ability of IT leaders to make sound decisions.

Strategic Thinking

Successful IT work requires collaboration between team members, effective budgeting, and access to relevant data. With these resources, IT leaders can plan strategically. However, there are key considerations involved in doing so. For example, when building a team or reorganizing a department, IT leaders must not only gauge the strengths and weaknesses of team members, but must also look at their own abilities and limitations. In addition, IT leaders consider what upgrades to make and assess when to start budgeting for new technologies like VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure), a desktop operating system hosted by a centralized server in a data center. Ultimately, strategic planning involves planning and acting based on research and having thought through the specific course of action that will lead to desired outcomes.

Risk Assessment

Along with the benefits of IT come risks that IT leaders must manage. For example, changing technology can pose the threat of corrupting or compromising existing hardware and software. IT leaders must apply risk management methods to handle these types of situations, as well as ensure their processes comply with IT regulations as they shift and update. The task of IT risk management first involves identifying the risks associated with the use and operation of a particular technology. After identifying risks, IT leaders analyze their nature and potential impact in order to develop methods to control them. Next, IT leaders employ strategies that can avoid risks or transfer risks to a third party, such as an outside vendor.

Financial Management

IT projects and operations must work within budgets. Therefore, IT leaders must effectively allocate money according to the needs of designated functions. This requires understanding the ins and outs of expenses related to IT, such as hardware expenditures like routers and servers, cloud platforms, and the building and maintenance of a computer system, among other things. IT leaders use accounting and finance management skills to calculate, balance, and coordinate budgets, which ensures IT departments function effectively and efficiently.

Appetite for Continual Growth

The constantly evolving IT environment calls upon IT professionals to regularly adapt and grow alongside it. This requires a strong motivation to learn and stay current on the latest industry skills. IT leaders can accomplish this by studying new coding languages when they are released and pursuing certificates in topics such as ethical hacking and virtualization. The most successful IT leaders are engaged in an enthusiastic pursuit of IT solutions and innovations throughout their careers.

Good Communication

Effective leaders in any capacity must masterfully communicate. Communicating involves more than speaking and writing clearly. The best communicators know how to sell their ideas, build teams, and collaborate. The success of an IT project depends on its leader’s ability to get everyone on board with his or her vision. This means listening to team members, consulting with them, and including them in the decision-making process. It also requires ensuring everyone understands the procedures and timelines of a project.

Professionals who possess the skills discussed above, in addition to solid IT technical knowledge, can effectively lead and develop IT teams. For these individuals, job opportunities abound. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 12 percent growth rate through 2028 for occupations in computer and information technology.

The Benefits of Earning a Master of Professional Studies in Information Technology Management

Building both the hard and soft skills needed to succeed in IT leadership requires the right education. Tulane University’s Online Master of Professional Studies in Information Technology Management prepares graduates for IT leadership positions through relevant coursework. The curriculum comprehensively addresses topics related to security, law, and governance in courses such as:

  • Security and Cyber Threats for IT Managers
  • Cyber Law and Policy
  • Information Technology Governance and Policy

In addition, the program cultivates the soft skills described above and gives students the opportunity to apply their learning through a unique capstone project. The program’s capstone component, Managing the Information Technology Department Capstone, engages students in a complex case study “to address real-world based technology management problem sets from the perspective of a CIO.” Upon completion of the study, students will develop responses and solutions to the organization’s challenges, keeping in mind its strategies and goals, real-world restrictions and litigation risks, required reporting, and compliance laws. During the course of the project, students assess the budget and existing infrastructure and consider the direction of IT strategies, as well as other factors including organization risk tolerance, best practices, and the impact of existing policies and procedures. In addition, students examine the implications of technology decisions and their impact outside of the organization’s IT department.

A master’s degree, like Tulane’s, can help IT professionals take the next step in their career. Advancing to the C-suite and working among executives who have the word "chief" in their titles means higher-paying opportunities, as well as prestige. The BLS reports that salaries for IT leaders range between $85,000 and $208,000 annually and that positions in the field are projected to grow 11 percent through 2028.

Learn More About Tulane University’s School of Professional Advancement

Those interested in acquiring the knowledge and expertise that set IT leaders apart should explore the benefits of deepening their education in IT management. Learn more about earning an Online Master of Professional Studies in Information Technology Management from Tulane University, and gain a competitive edge in the field.

Big Law Business, “The Top Ten Privacy and Data Security Developments to Watch in 2018”
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Chief Executives
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Computer and Information Systems Managers
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Computer and Information Technology Occupations
Business News Daily, "10 Business Skills Every IT Manager Needs"
CIO, “6 Data Analytics Success Stories: An Inside Look”
Forbes, “The Evolving Role of the CIO in 2018”
Project Manager, “IT Risk Management Strategies and Best Practices”
TechGenix, "6 Key Skills Recruiters Demand When Hiring IT Leaders”
TechRepublic, "How to Become a CIO: A Cheat Sheet”
TechTarget, IT Budget (Information Technology Budget)
TechTarget, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

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