Management > CIO

Social media and IT leaders

Mark Say Published 18 May 2011

Social media and IT leaders

Exploiting web 2.0 channels is one of the big challenges facing public sector IT chiefs

Discussions on IT leadership issues in the public sector have thrown up some recurring issues in recent years finding a voice in the boardroom, showing the ability to grapple with business issues, overcoming resistance to change but the rise of social media is creating a new demand on those at the top.

It's not just about getting to grips with how the new technology changes interaction with the public, but recognising that it can be a tool in getting a lot more out of staff. This was one of the factors to emerge from the online debate on the subject staged on 17 May by GGC.

All the trends suggest that senior IT officials now need to show a clear understanding of what blogs, social forums and Twitter can do, as plenty of politicians have begun to use them as part of their routines, and are asking questions about what they can do for their organisations.

Chief information officers are exploring the use of web 2.0 technologies, and there are some good examples of using social media to reach out to their communities you can see it in Manchester encouraging residents and workers to discuss ideas through Facebook and Twitter, or West Midlands police tweeting from magistrates' courts but there is a need for a systematic effort to use them more widely and strategically.

In addition, the technology creates some informal channels for staff to communicate with the public and with each other. This can do a lot to make them more reactive to specific problems, but it can also be a great source of ideas the equivalent of an ongoing brainstorming session, with the advantage that people are more likely to come up with solutions in the moments when they are not under immediate pressure.

This is contributing to a trend in which public bodies are becoming less hierarchical in their structures; there are lines of authority, but a good organisation will give people on the lower rungs of the ladder a chance to throw in their ideas on how to make things work better. One of the big challenges for IT leaders is to exploit the trend, using social media to tap into experience and ideas from a wide range of people.

It can provide a potential for innovation from a much larger pool than traditional approaches. This could be a crucial factor at a time when government is looking for radical solutions to cope with the spending cuts.

Among the other points to emerge from the debate was the need for IT chiefs to exert a strong influence in the boardrooms of their organisations. This has been on the agenda for years, but the contributions suggested that there is still a lot of progress to be made, and that it is up to the IT people to prove they are more than techies.

The important factors are to understand the details and nuances of the organisation's main business issues, and to convey to other top officials and politicians how technology relates to this.

"The issue comes down to what is important to the service manager or director," was one of the comments. "IT touches all parts of our organisations and it has the opportunity to deliver on a wide range of agendas."

It is also related to IT leaders responding to the political nature of the organisation, showing that they understand its priorities and values. This can help to prevent a possibility that can do more harm than good a politician taking on the role of IT guru for the organisation. It is the techies who have the superiority in this field, but they have to show they can speak the same language as their bosses and provide workable solutions to the problems.

A full record of the debate can be found here , and anyone interested in looking deeper into the issues may like to take note of our IT Leadership Forum , set to take place in London on 8 June.

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