There will always be a need for people who understand the enterprise IT domain, especially as roles and responsibilities shift dramatically in the next few years.
But most IT people are employed by businesses of one sort or another. So it makes a certain sense that truly valuable IT people not only know their domain, but can tie it back to the business in meaningful ways.
The Occasional Flash Of Brilliance
Most of you know I spend a lot of time with customers and partners. As much as possible, I ask them to sketch out their situation in as much detail as possible.
The responses can vary considerably, as you might expect.
Once in a while, though, I get a supernova of insight from someone. Usually, it's from the person in the room that the group acknowledges as the leader, which might not always be the most senior person in the room.
Now, I can't say this with any certainty, but I usually end up coming away with the impression that this particular person is midway through a wonderful career. I'm not entirely sure about cause and effect: is it their ability to articulate a vision that makes them a leader -- or are all nascent leaders this articulate?
Either way, you might want to scan how the usual dialog unfolds. If you're the sort of person that can have this type of discussion on behalf of your organization, you have my respect.
"Our industry is going through significant changes (insert list of relevant changes)"
You might have noticed that I have a rather detailed point of view on what's going on in my own industry. I get to meet people who have correspondingly detailed points of view on what's going on in their own segments and markets.
They share their views with me. I share my views with them. We ask probing questions of each other. It can be a wonderful interaction. And, remember, this is usually from someone in the IT function.
"Our company's strategy is to exploit these changes (insert list of strategic elements)"
OK, if you've got a handle on the landscape, what is your business planning to do about it?
Usually, this can be boiled down to a handful of strategic thoughts that might initially sound somewhat vaporous (e.g. get closer to customers, enter new markets, accelerate the introduction of new offers to existing customers, etc.) but actually can unpack to a fairly detailed set of activities.
It is the rare strategic agenda indeed that does not imply heaping helpings of IT-related stuff -- people, information and processes. Making strong connections between what the business is trying to get done (and how IT could potentially help!) is very thought-provoking stuff.
"The role of our IT group is to empower the business to do this faster and better (list of specific functions or capabilities that IT intends to deliver in partnership with the business)"
Note that this statement isn't articulated in the terms of a specific application, project or established category.
It's amazing how often some people will reach for a pre-packaged concept or buzzword as the"answer". Choose your favorite IT topic: collaboration, BPM, analytics, mobility -- lots and lots to choose from. I think that many IT people have some sort of pre-fab library of concepts in their head, and instinctively reach for one and try to use it to drive the discussion.
The far better discussions are when context is provided: here's the business problem we're trying to solve and the outcomes we'd like to see. Here are our constraints. Here are the steps in the journey we think we need to take.
The result is more of a dialog around creating new functions and capabilities -- we need better decision making support, new forms of collaboration, process support for a new business model, etc.
Rare is it that one of those pre-packaged IT concepts you so often read about really fits the bill.
It should go without saying that IT not only needs to deliver the capability, they're also on the hook to make sure that the business people can use the new capability to deliver the intended result. People want results, not projects.
"Of course, we've got to do what we've done before more efficiently (list of initiatives to save money or improve process efficiency)"
Delivering efficiency back to the business is basic table stakes for any business function, including IT. Doesn't matter whether you're in sales, marketing, customer support, manufacturing, engineering, HR, finance, legal -- pick your favorite. There's always an expectation that your function can do what it did last year, but do it more efficiently.
IT actually has two roles here.
First, the business of IT itself can always be done more efficiently. There's a plethora of new technology every year, and it's usually far cheaper than before. There's also always big room to re-imagine and re-implement core processes, especially given the rate of technological change. So far so good.
But let's not lose sight of the fact that IT can frequently help *all the other functions* gain more efficiency and spend less money doing what they did before. Unfortunately, I find it too far infrequent that IT organizations actually invest the critical mass of people and resources to do precisely that.
The money saved can either be given back to the business, or -- more frequently -- reinvested into doing newer things that create new value for the business. And IT can and should play a powerful role here.
"But our real mission is to accelerate our business in key areas (list of very focused areas)"
And now we're getting to the core of the discussion: what will IT be doing that can create unique and differentiated value for the business? Usually it revolves around themes like enablement, empowerment, integration, collaboration, analysis -- with a strong dose of speed and agility.
In most businesses, success is usually a result of a decent strategy powered by speed and agility. If IT is to be an integral part of the business, wouldn't the recipe be pretty much the same?
The Flip Side
Not every customer discussion gets into such weighty topics, to be sure ...
Plenty of my conversations are about updating people on what the newer technologies are capable of, and how they change the game in several important regards.
Like most closet geeks, I don't need much prompting to talk about cool tech.
And there's plenty of demand around helping IT groups address more immediate concerns, like how to spend less money on storage, or protect information better, or accelerate virtualization, or similar. Almost always, these conversations quickly move from technology (lots of that available) to how they're actually using the technologies that are available (a more uncomfortable discussion).
No surprise here.
Going a bit further, the JttPC (journey to the private cloud) dialog is always popular -- but usually at a senior level in the IT organization. It's all about repositioning classical enterprise IT -- the technology, people and process -- as an internal service provider.
But, occasionally, I get to meet someone who can lay out the high-level business-meets-IT landscape very quickly, and we can talk about what *they* want to talk about: delivering more value to the business -- and how EMC can help.
Do you know many people in your IT organization who could lay out a discussion like this?