IT professionals need business skills: CBA CIO

Gone are the days when IT staff could just stick with cold hard IT skills. Business knowledge is now what is required for people that want to have a career in IT, according to Commonwealth Bank CIO Michael Harte.

As technology increasingly intertwins with business operations, IT professionals can no longer rely on deep technical knowledge to progress their careers, but will have to understand how to translate IT into dollars, according to Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) CIO Michael Harte.

Harte was speaking at the Australian Computer Society's Young IT conference in Sydney.

Michael Harte

With IT becoming an integral part of driving innovation and progress in almost every sector, Harte said that the role of the IT professional has changed significantly in recent years. He shared what qualities he looks for when hiring IT staff at CBA.

"Deep technical skills are helpful, but not necessary," Harte said. "What is necessary is an energy to be creative, to be inquisitive, to continue to be dissatisfied with the status quo, a readiness to get stuck in, and to deliver value."

"For ideas are worth nothing, unless there is a plan to execute and create value."

IT departments have traditionally operated as enclaves in a business, with IT staff rarely venturing beyond their role of caring for the core tech needs of businesses and workers. But IT workers need to think more broadly about how IT can work for their businesses, Harte said, and CIOs have the responsibility to see this happen.

"As a CIO, you're an adviser to the CEO to help them understand IT, and the architecture of IT as the embodiment of the business model," he said. "The architecture you have within the business entity should be the information, the applications, and infrastructural support for the business."

IT professionals in a corporation should have an understanding of what the business wants to achieve and think of how technology implementations can support those goals, according to Harte.

"Because, that's what informs the investments that go to sustaining the business model," he said.

While the world braces for more IT spending cuts as the economic climate worsens, Harte touted the importance for companies to invest in IT to differentiate themselves against their competitors.

"Taking long-term bets in big infrastructure, such as core IT systems, is what creates competitive advantage and delivers value, not just in the corporation, but to every single customer that does business with you," he said. "If that costs one, two, or three million dollars, it doesn't matter, because trillions might be made back through the life of a new platform."