There are two kinds of IT departments. The first kind is the cost center. IT is an expense to be managed, like the utility bill. IT focuses on unit cost reduction and efficiency. IT is a means to an end, and a necessary evil to participate in the modern economy. The business needs IT, but doesn’t love it. This is a race to the bottom. The goal is to make the IT widgets that the business needs as cheap as possible.
The second kind of IT department is the value machine. The business screams “shut up and take my money” because every dollar they give to the IT department comes back as $2 in business value. Being in IT is cool. The business loves IT. The focus on this IT department is speed, agility, and scale. If you’ve found a way to print money, all you want to do is make the machine go faster and somehow replicate itself.
What I’ve described is two ends of the spectrum. Chances are good that you are probably somewhere in the middle. Perhaps you see certain parts of IT treated one way or the other. I’ve lived both extremes. One is certainly a lot more fun than the other. What I’ve often observed is that this pendulum tends to swing with the economy. In good times, the business spends money on IT. In tough times, IT looks like a big source of cost take-out.
This explanation is probably very true, but it’s not very satisfying. After all, if you had a money-printing machine, why on Earth would you shut it off or reduce its capacity in tough times? Isn’t that when you need it most?
It’s that very conundrum that has caused me to ponder this question. After all, it’s not my style to sit back and act like a victim of circumstance. I have to believe that there’s something we can do about it.
That’s exactly where this journey starts: belief. I believe that technology creates value. Do you? This is my profession: I take technology and put it to work to generate business value. We’ve been doing this ever since we figured out that computers work better for business productivity than typewriters and slide-rules. Sure, life is a bit more complex now, but the basic principle remains the same: Business + Technology = Better Business.
Many IT organizations struggle with this basic notion: from a business standpoint, money goes into the black box and what comes back out? It’s hard to tell. Even if the business trusts that IT is being a good steward of the investment, lack of clarity is a problem.
There’s a reason why this is so pervasive. Value-out is a lot harder to calculate than spend-in. Even though this is hard, it is work worth doing. We should always attempt to measure this on the front-side of a spend, but even more important, we should check the results when we are done to see how we did.
Earn a Seat at the Table
Ah… the proverbial “seat” at the proverbial “table.” This is where the magic happens. The business leaders meet to concoct strategies and make critical business decisions. For some reason, there aren’t any IT people in the room. IT folks like to decry this scenario, and demand to have a “seat,” which is, to have a say in the process.
Of course, this cannot be demanded. One must be invited, and that invitation must be earned. What earns that invitation? Good fundamentals. IT won’t get an invitation if it cannot keep the network online, keep the main webpage up, and maintain regulatory compliance. If you don’t have a seat at the table, look at your operations to see why that may be the case.
So, the last thing that a cash-strapped IT department can afford is a marketing budget, right? That’s probably true, and while you may need to do it on-the-cheap, you still need to find a way to do it. IT does really cool things for the business, but it often doesn’t get much press.
As an IT leader, you can do something about that. Find the stories that are worth telling and get them out there. Use internal social media, open houses, internal conferences, or even a newsletter to get the word out. I know, I know, you went into IT because you hate sales and marketing, I get it. But, it’s still a part of the deal.
This formula starts with belief and ends with evangelism. You believe in technology, but are you excited about it? The business has a lot of things to think about. They count on you to stay plugged into what’s going on in the tech sector.
When you find or develop a new technology that excites you, tell someone! Share your enthusiasm for the future possibilities for digital transformation and market disruption. If you aren’t visibly and contagiously jazzed about technology, then the business definitely won’t be. Let your passion show.
Those are my principles. These are as much of a stretch for me as they are for you. I’ve not mastered them, but I believe that I can. If there are a bunch of us working on this, I’m convinced that the businesses we serve will be much more likely to tell us to shut up and take their money. Have any tips to add? Please share in the comments below.
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