IT departments must adopt wide view to gain respect

Are you a technology leader or follower? Do you like to be on the bleeding edge, on the leading edge, in the middle of the pack or bringing up the rear? When a new technology appears, do you strive to learn all you can about it and how it can be used in your company, or do you stick your head in the sand and hope it goes away?

How you answer these questions is a big factor in how your company perceives you. In the business community the IT organization is not often viewed as a strategic unit. Instead of being seen as an integral strategic partner assisting in the overall success of the company, the IT department is often viewed as nothing more than a support organization making sure a bunch of machines hidden away in a data centre are working properly.

Unfortunately, we have to take the blame for this. In many cases, we have resisted the opportunity to be viewed as a strategic partner. Instead of actively researching new technologies and analyzing their potential business value, we have often hidden ourselves away in those same data centres and let the technology pass us by.

Want proof? Look at the Web. Most companies view the Web as a strategic business opportunity. Any company that doesn’t understand the potential value of the Internet and Web-related technologies is doomed to failure. Yet what business unit normally controls the Web strategy for a company? In most corporations, the Webmaster and his assorted legions are part of marketing. Why? Because the IT department did not see the business value of the Web.

Oh, we understood how the Internet could be used for e-mail, file transfers, wide-area connectivity and even voice connectivity. But we failed to understand how the Internet could be used to bring new products to the marketplace, increase public awareness and drive the company forward.

That’s not our role, you say. But it should be. The true value of technology doesn’t come from providing support functions – it comes from being a strategic tool that can drive a company’s success. As technologists, we should be the ones driving the adoption of new technologies. All too often, that’s not the case.

In many firms, marketing, legal, training, human resources and other non-IT groups are driving the technology strategy. Non-IT personnel are taking the lead in defining the business value of technology, leaving IT departments to be viewed as support personnel.

How many IT departments are actively researching emerging technologies and understanding their strategic business value? How many are regularly meeting with other business units, trying to understand their needs and then seeing what technologies can meet those needs?

Instead of just supporting technology, the IT organization needs to understand the company’s business goals and then drive the use of technology to meet those goals. Instead of maintaining the status quo, we need to have our eyes on the horizon, researching emerging technologies and understanding how they can help our companies succeed. Only then will we be viewed as valued strategic partners.

Yoke is an IS manager in Denver. He can be reached at