Ask the IT Consultant

Nov 10 2010   12:00PM GMT

Learning to Leverage Business Expertise to Stay Competitive – Part 2


Learning to Leverage Business Expertise to Stay Competitive – Part 2

Question: As businesses become increasingly sophisticated, how can IT knowledge workers gain the business knowledge to remain competitive?

Part one was a discussion of the reasons why IT knowledge workers need to understand the businesses they deliver services it, we will now dive into how the CIO, as the person who has the best understanding of the business challenges in an organization can drive that change in attitude.  Most change occurs from the top down, which means that CIO’s, must lead the shift in perspective from technology to business in their organizations.

To get started, create a vision for the future where IT professionals are champions for applying technology in your business.  This image serves as a vivid picture of a positive future where the IT department and all IT professionals enjoy a strong reputation for helping the organization use technology to serve its customers significantly better than the competition.  This is not just your ideal but the vision for all IT professionals.  This will create a common purpose and an emotional connection of each IT professional in your organization.

If the reputation of your IT organization is not strong, convince an influential business colleague to partner with you to enhance IT’s value through their increased business knowledge.  The success of this partnership will encourage other business leaders to work more closely with IT for mutual benefit for everyone.  Hold a meeting to unveil your vision for the future and brainstorm ideas to bring it about with the entire IT department AND your influential business colleague.  You and your business colleague must be prepared to answer questions about this vision and your joint commitment to make it happen.  You will want all employees to contribute ideas during the brainstorming session, so invite a good facilitator to help  get everyone contributing to the discussion.  Use your training department’s expertise and knowledge of techniques for accelerating learning and knowledge transfer.  Remember to consider all ideas and get the employees to decide which are best to move ahead.  Produce a “roadmap” of activities and intentional actions to increase business knowledge in an aggressive but achievable timeframe.  This will reinforce your commitment AND show everyone the path forward.

One CIO who I know created an “academy” to change the mindset of his department and increase the value to his $2 billion business services company.  He partnered with his training department to develop a four month program for all IT personnel and used training, mentoring, role-playing and roundtable discussion to foster learning and skill development.

There are myriad ways to enhance business knowledge.  The key is to stimulate the desire in each IT practitioner to do so AND implement a predictable plan that employees can trust to occur.  Do not forget to incorporate incentives (recognition and rewards) for expanding business knowledge.   Remember, you need a climate of trust within the IT department and beyond IT to achieve success.  To quote Peter Drucker from his from his book Management Challenges for the 21st Century (HarperCollins, 1999): “Organizations are no longer built on force but on trust.  The existence of trust between people does not necessarily mean that they like one another. It means that they understand one another.”  Work with your IT professionals to strengthen their understanding of their business colleagues and increase IT’s value to your company.

About the Author

Robert Johnson, Director of Product Marketing at Atrion Networking Corporation where he’s responsible for market analysis, developing new products and co-leading the company’s managed services business line. Robert is a veteran of the IT industry having held executive strategy and marketing positions with CGI Inc., Deloitte Consulting and Digital Equipment Corp.

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