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OUTLOOK 2013 - ILLUSTRATION: Skip Sterling

2013 IT outlook: Innovation trumps cost-cutting

IT leaders have talked for years about the need to better align IT with the business objectives. Now there's a sense of urgency.

By , Network World
January 02, 2013 06:03 AM ET

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The hiring picture is also complicated by the imperative to transform IT. In the search for candidates, business acumen has become as important as technical skills.

Conklin of Christus Health understands firsthand the pressure to find both business-savvy and technically strong IT pros. "Our hiring challenges are at two extremes," says Conklin, who oversees IT at the Dallas-based healthcare provider, which runs more than 60 hospitals and long-term care facilities and 175 clinics and outpatient centers in the U.S. and Mexico.

Healthcare organizations are morphing from traditional disease-driven operating models to a focus on wellness that includes emerging programs such as accountable care organizations. (An ACO is a network of doctors and hospitals that shares responsibility for patient care in an effort to improve care while driving down costs.) So Christus Health needs to hire technical people with solid business skills who can keep up with operational objectives in an industry that's changing all the time.

"Systems we buy will have to be adaptable, and the people we have on board need to understand both ends of the business well enough to not paint us into a corner by doing things that either won't work or will require significant rework in the future," Conklin says.

At the same time, the need for traditional technical expertise is unabated. The changing nature of healthcare "requires us to have very talented, extremely technical people on board who understand the complexities of building secure networks and applications families that will be adaptable for the future," he says.

Is IT ready to be innovative?

"IT leaders are definitely up to the challenge, and a lot of them are further along than they think," Mann says of the imperative for innovation. "They need to develop new skills and approaches, but they'll do it."

Budget remains a hurdle. IT teams need to figure out how to be innovative when they don't have the time or money to do much more than keep the lights on, Mann says.

Business knowledge is essential, Christ says. Top-performing CIOs take the time to meet key customers and suppliers, they know their competitors, and they know the agendas of their peers in the C-suite because they talk continuously, he says. "They're conversant in the language of the industry, not just in technical terms," Christ says. "They expect the same of the IT leaders reporting to them and evaluate them on business understanding."

IT needs buy-in from the CEO, Iyer says. The CEO needs to reinforce that IT is a critical function, and insist that IT play a role in driving business growth.

Confidence is another necessity.

I tell my folks the example of someone who runs a music store. If you go to the shop, the music guy knows the acoustic guitar, the electric guitar, the piano. He can play all those instruments -- but that doesn't make him Eric Clapton. I tell them I'm Eric Clapton. I do this gig for a living. I can go play with any guitar you give me, I can go do this at any company. I may not know the difference in detail between every acoustic guitar or electric guitar, but I can still play Layla and you can't.

Iyer, who is a CIO at a technology company, is often challenged to defend his department's work, particularly since his end users are extremely tech-savvy.

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