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IT professionals typically choose to enter the profession because they enjoy technology.  They like to solve problems through careful analysis.  They pay great attention to details.  They are tough-minded in that they want to keep digging until the problem is resolved to their satisfaction.  They enjoy bringing order out of chaos but then again, they become easily bored by processes they see as repetitive and mundane.   They love to tinker and change things to make them better.  They are fascinated by the challenge of learning something new.

Learning the business hasn’t been a high priority

Many in IT pride themselves on their technical skills rather than their business proficiency.  They see themselves as IT jumping hurdlesprofessionals rather than bankers, manufacturers, or retailers (see “What Business Are You In?”)  They reason that they can easily take their skills to another industry using similar technology.  As such, these professionals are much more invested in learning and understanding technology rather than the business of the company currently cutting their paycheck.  This in itself is a major cause of the knowledge/communication gap between IT and the rest of the business.  It’s not that IT people are incapable of learning about the business; it just isn’t a high enough priority when compared to everything else.  It isn’t that they enjoy speaking in a tongue foreign to others and honestly, they don’t always realize that is what is happening.  It’s simply the way they think, and they have not made the effort to learn how to translate those thoughts into a common language.  Relate it to someone who wants to learn English as a second language.  It takes time and effort to learn to do so, and it doesn’t happen without motivation, commitment and dedication.

Lack of business understanding hurts your career, your IT department, & your company

There are natural ramifications when IT professionals focus primarily on technology rather than on business.  The communication barrier presents difficulties in building relationships with those in other areas.  IT becomes seen as outsiders by the rest of the company.  Rather than being recognized as having a passion for moving the company forward, they become viewed as simply a pair of hands providing a service that could be purchased from other places.  Much to the chagrin of many IT professionals, this results in IT becoming viewed as simply an order-taker.  And sadly, it also means that the company does not gain the benefit from technology – or from its IT employees – that it should.

So how can we move IT from having technology tunnel-vision to being a true champion of business?

Practical suggestions to help

  • Establish goals and align rewards.  When presented with a goal, IT professionals will focus on achieving it…as long as they understand the reason behind the goal and feel that it is possible.  This seems to be especially true when the goal becomes a part of their performance review and associated rewards.  Establish monthly/quarterly/annual goals associated with improving business knowledge and contributing to the business.  Encourage them to pursue business certifications in your industry, shadow various business functions within your company, build their outside network with professionals in other disciplines, and read about/research what is going on in your industry.  Provide them a forum and motivate them to discuss these topics with their IT peers and with colleagues from other areas of the business.  Discuss their progress on a regular basis and coach them in improving.  Help them understand the importance of this effort to their career, the IT department, and the company.  Be sure to give them time for these activities and regularly stress them.  If they sense that you really just care about their projects or other technology responsibilities, they will quickly disengage.  And I should add, you as their leader must set the example for them.
  • Eliminate the sole source mentality, throw away the handcuffs, and enable the business.  Begin transforming IT toward the model of a professional services organization, a service broker.  Train the entire staff to attain the mindset of an internal consultant, then assign a specific IT professional to become the trusted advisor of each business unit.  These trusted advisors are tasked with helping their assigned business area move forward.  Note that this cannot be simply an additional duty but should develop into a full-time role.  These professionals should attend business unit staff meetings and gain an intimate understanding of their processes, challenges, goals, business drivers and vision.  They should proactively identify solutions that can help the business increase revenue, decrease costs, or enhance differentiation through technology services as well as manual processes.  They should bring information to the business about what your competition is doing and what potential disruptors are on the horizon.  They should evaluate alternative solutions to business challenges and present the various options, risks, pros/cons, costs, etc. to the business unit for their decision.  Then, they should monitor the implementation to assure that the desired benefits are achieved.
  • Promote financial stewardship.  The vast majority of C-suite executives seem to believe that their IT costs are too high for the value they are receiving.  Many believe they could receive identical or even better service elsewhere for a cheaper price.  For their part, too many CIOs fail to provide the true data needed to change anyone’s mind.  Identify each of the services IT provides in terms that the C-suite can understand…just as if they were going to purchase the service from an outside provider.  Ascertain the true costs of each service taking care not to load overhead that would not be applicable to another vendor.  Use this information to facilitate a discussion about the level of service that each business unit needs.  You may just find that IT is currently providing a premium-level service that the business doesn’t truly require.  Do an apples-to-apples comparison of the cost of each service with outside vendors and share this information with your company.  If your costs are out of line, either fix the problem or move the service to an outside provider.

What other suggestions do you have to assist IT in moving from technology-focused to truly making a difference by championing the business of your company?

 

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