Ten ways to boost your IT value

Information technology departments are under more pressure than ever to prove their value in today’s climate of continued economic constraints and depressed IT spending. In these times, we must be diligent about not losing sight of the fundamentals. Based on my nine years of experience in IT, here are 10 ways to increase your value and that of IT at your company:

1. Execution is everything; just get it done. True, it’s a cliche, but more than ever, the business is in need of an IT department that can deliver. Don’t get embroiled in endless analysis; take reasonable risks and just do it. You’ll show the business that your department is competitive and action-oriented.

2. Deliver solutions, not ideologies. Drop the religious debates over Unix versus Linux versus Windows. Forget about historical allegiances to specific platforms, and resist the habit of calling yourselves the “Windows group” or the “Unix team.” Just deliver the most appropriate solutions that are consistent with your enterprise’s overall IT architecture at the most competitive cost.

3. Deliver a consistent message. Tactics change, but your strategy and vision should be good for the long haul. If you’ve got a solid message that’s consistent with the overall corporate strategy and vision, repeat it enough and people will follow. But also remain agile and prepared to change, because at some point the technology and business will change.

4. Personally engage the business. Everyone knows that successful IT departments are closely aligned with the business, but for IT employees who work behind the scenes on networking and infrastructure issues, it may be difficult to see how your work contributes to the overall business.

Find your own hook into the business. Pick a project or a department, build the relationships, and show how you and your department can contribute to their goals.

5. Learn the “stack.” In our IT department, we use the term stack to describe all the components of a particular system, from the physical infrastructure to the business application and content, and everything in between. The best IT people understand the application stack from bottom to top. Understanding applications and technologies this way makes you more valuable, engages you with the business and gives you a competitive advantage over those who understand just their piece.

For example, there’s traditionally a gap between the developers who write an application and the network infrastructure people who provide the transport. Those who can bridge the gap by understanding how the application and the network interact offer extra value.

6. Consider less-conventional technology alternatives. Competitive IT departments recognize the value in low-cost, functional solutions. For example, a year and a half ago it was almost inconceivable to consider running a business with a productivity suite other than Microsoft Office. Today there are several lower cost or free alternatives, such as open source or inexpensive commercial suites, that are rapidly becoming functional replacements. The same is true for other product segments as well, so consider these before your next major upgrade.

7. It’s a buyer’s market, so take advantage of it. Vendors are more willing to negotiate than ever. Simply needing to survive, they’re hot to compete. Take advantage by playing the field for commodity buys and driving down prices.

8. Think enterprisewide. Target your IT initiatives across the entire enterprise when possible. Cost pressures make it a necessity, because management will resist site-specific implementations.

9. Respect technology and the business it enables. It has become popular in the past several years to proclaim, “It’s not the technology that’s important; it’s the business.” While generally true, this phrase is overused. Let’s face it — good technology can help to drive down the costs of doing business and enable new business, and that’s a good thing. Maintain a healthy balance in your business/technology focus.

10. Develop a working knowledge of Linux. Windows isn’t the only game in town anymore. Linux is becoming increasingly common, so it’s important to understand the economic and technical issues around it. You’ll be better prepared to answer your customers’ questions as a result.

Krieger is associate director of global network services at The Reader’s Digest Association Inc. and is a member of the committee driving global standards for technical architecture and application development.