“What business are you in?”  Ask any IT practitioner this question and you will likely hear something like, “I’m in IT.”

Let’s face it.  Most IT people do not seem to see themselves as bankers, manufacturers, retailers, or distributors.  They see themselves as IT professionals.  After all, couldn’t they easily take their skills to another industry that uses similar technology?lemonade stand

It is true that an IT professional may perhaps be able to switch industries easier than those in some other professions.  But a single-minded focus on technology (rather than on the larger business environment that actually writes the paychecks) prevents your company from truly benefitting from all the talents at their disposal.

In his book Get Out of I.T. While You Can, Craig Schiefelbein proposes an interesting exercise.  Pick out any IT professional in your company.  Now imagine your CEO recruiting that individual on the spur of the moment to show some important potential customers around the company.  You could expect the customers to ask typical questions like:

  • What is your target market for each of your products?
  • Who are the major competitors for each of your products and what are your advantages as compared to your competition?  What are the selling points your competitors use against you?
  • What else differentiates you from your competition?
  • What is your company doing to ensure me that it will still be around in five or ten years?
  • What are you doing to improve the customer experience?

So… how would the IT professionals in your company do with such an assignment?  Would they be as comfortable talking about these business issues as about virtualization, Windows 8, or bits & bytes?

Your company needs every employee – including every IT professional – to be engaged in moving the company forward to attain its goals.  Everyone needs to understand the business and where it is headed.  And everyone needs to be using their skills and abilities to the fullest extent to help make the company successful.  Isn’t that what they are paying you for?

Here are a few suggestions to start:

  • Get out of your IT silo and go shadow a colleague working in another area of the business.  It is amazing what you will learn, and you shouldn’t be at all surprised to find something that you could do in IT to help improve their job.
  • Make it a practice to go on breaks or out to lunch with colleagues in other business areas.  Learn about the challenges and the successes they are having in their job.
  • Read news and blogs about your company’s industry.
  • Invite representatives from other departments to talk about their goals and objectives at your team meetings.
  • Research how your competition is using technology to enhance differentiation, reduce costs, or increase revenue.  Discuss your findings with fellow colleagues in IT and in the rest of the business.
  • Look at the technology future for your industry.  What potential disruptors are on the horizon that could totally change things?
  • Talk with your colleagues in the rest of the business who regularly engage with customers.  How could you use technology to enhance the customer experience?
  • Consider what data is available in internal systems – and externally as well – to provide a more complete picture of your customers and prospects…and to improve/speed your decision-making process.

Get involved!  You will find this enjoyable and career-enhancing.  And it will make a difference.

What other thoughts do you have to help IT professionals become more engaged in the business of their company?

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