With information technology (IT) playing an increasingly important part in global trade, a host of new executive positions including chief information officer, chief technology officer, technology management manager, IT partner and head of information technology are being created in industries across the board.
Senior IT professionals can be divided into several categories, based on three specific natures of the organisations they work for: vendors, users or professional service providers. The major task of IT executives working for companies that sell software, hardware or both is to lead teams of professionals in delivering IT services and solutions to clients. In such cases, the executive is normally the head of a business unit. Others who work for professional service providers in a similar capacity may have different job titles.
Companies that are users, such as the MTR, often outsource their IT projects for optimal effectiveness, resources or economical reasons, but still require top talent for specialised areas such as information security and project management, says Daniel Lai, head of information technology, MTR Corporation Limited.
"It is not enough for our people to be proficient in IT. They need to be equipped with the necessary business acumen. For example, if you work for an investment bank, you need banking expertise and if you work for a logistics company, you need to understand the relevant business processes involved," Mr Lai stresses.
IT executives therefore do not simply fulfil a technical role, they must also have the capacity for business integration and decision-making, bearing in mind that business development depends on the effective use of technology with a clear goal.
"These days, IT is not about supporting the growth of companies. It should be able to leverage its strength to be a catalyst for driving business growth. Neither is it about cost and expenditure. Beyond returns and profits, IT should add value to organisations, whether it is by opening up new sales channels, increasing productivity, enhancing customer loyalty or heightening operational efficiency," Mr Lai explains.
Companies face inevitable changes to the business environment. It is therefore important for IT heads to carefully consider the challenges facing them, in order to respond to them on a timely basis by using the appropriate technological tools to enable smooth transitions.
IT managers are also responsible for service delivery, and IT teams must closely monitor the execution of information technology processes including data centres and systems operations, IT infrastructure performance, databases and e-mail systems in the company's daily business process.
Bridging the gap
An IT manager is usually supported by a few senior staff in charge of applications, infrastructure, technical support, programme management and quality assurance.
Mr Lai explains there has been an increased awareness of the importance of enterprise architecture in the last decade. A methodology to define, maintain, and utilise various IT aspects and components in a structured manner towards common business and IT goals, enterprise architecture can help bridge the IT-business divide. As such, an enterprise architect must keep track of not only IT concerns, but also those of the business.
"In the past, it was common that the IT department of an organisation worked on its own, designing a number of isolated specifications without adequately communicating all the required functionalities and technicalities to the end-users," he says.
Today, however, the IT enterprise architect's role is to bridge the gap between technology and business on all levels, particularly in large-scale enterprises striving for sustainability.
"Having been around for only about 60 years, IT is a relatively young field compared with disciplines such as medicine and engineering. The fast-paced development makes the profession very interesting," Mr Lai remarks.
He believes that jobs in IT are rewarding in the sense that they demand creativity. "IT professionals must combine innovation with business goals, providing great job satisfaction," he says, adding that the upcoming Hong Kong Computer Society Outstanding IT Achiever Awards will further this message while providing recognition for good performance.
A member of the competition's judging panel, Mr Lai emphasises that the aim of the competition is to identify outstanding achievers who have the leadership skills and abilities to help their organisations grow. "These IT elites will also work to the benefit of society at large," he concludes.