Information technology (IT) has come a long way in 30 years. In many ways technology is as ubiquitous as the telephone or the calculator. But is technology helping the business ultimately succeed?
The goal of a great IT organization should be to help the business achieve its goals through the application of technology. So if the business is to manufacture widgets, how can technology be applied to make more widgets, faster and cheaper? And how can technology help distribute the widgets so they end up with customers?
In order to do this, IT leaders need to understand widget manufacturing. And hence the dilemma. Does the IT Leader focus on technology or on the business?
The easy answer is both, but reality is a bit more complicated. As with many other professions, people rise to the top when they’re good at what they do. The top sales rep gets promoted to sales manager. This dynamic ignores the fact that the skills to be a top sales rep are not the same as those needed to be a good manager. A similar dynamic applies to IT leadership jobs. Often the best technologists are promoted to leadership positions without regard to their abilities to understand, and therefore support the business.
This is not to say top technologists don’t make great IT leaders. What I am saying is that there needs to be a balance between technology and business acumen. IT organizations need highly specialized technologists, and they also need highly skilled business leaders. Only then can they bridge the gap between IT and the business.
This also applies to the top leadership role in an IT organization. The Chief Information Officer (CIO) needs to be an integral part of the senior business leadership team. His or her job is to understand the business and apply technology to help the business succeed, or to make sure he or she has the IT team necessary to accomplish this goal. And the journey begins with making sure everyone in the IT organization understands the company vision, mission, and strategy. IT folks are smart. They’ll get it. But you need to show them the way.
Consider business workshops for your IT teams. With a continuous training program aimed at improving business skills and understanding, you help bridge the gap. And consider seeding savvy business leaders in your IT teams. The technology can be taught, but the business knowledge and experience can be invaluable. And ask yourself this one question every day. What did I do to help the business succeed?