If IT has a lousy reputation at your company, the problem might just be the people who are tasked with managing it.
It’s not that these IT professionals are failing in their job to keep the company’s computing infrastructure at peak performance. Nor is it because they’re not technically proficient and adequately skilled. Rather, the problem is perception and personality.
That’s an assertion from Kenneth Rau, a North Carolina specialist in IT strategic planning, governance, control and performance measurement. He contends that IT’s image problem in many organizations has serious business ramifications,.
Rau recently authored a discussion document in which he says computing technology and the people whose job it is to manage IT in the workplace don’t get their due credit. But Rau also believes IT professionals could, and should, do a whole lot more to help their own cause.
It’s a matter of technology folks thinking more like marketers, he writes. They need to trumpet their accomplishments and tech successes, which in turn would ultimately help improve the generally negative attitude some business users have about IT.
There’s definitely something in what Rau says. Certainly anyone who’s ever been an IT professional in a large or small company knows the thankless nature of the job.
“It’s an image and perception problem,” Rau says. The reality is that most IT projects are successful and delivered on time, but he says too often the IT professionals who do the work “are not taking full advantage of tooting their own horn.”
The solution, Rau suggests, is that IT professionals need to speak up and be much more involved in promoting the successful use of IT throughout their large and small companies. Part of that involves being more active in terms of offering a helping hand to businesses users who often don’t know the best ways to use technology.
In Rau’s ideal organization, the IT professional becomes a teacher in instructing users, an evangelist in demonstrating the positive value of IT, and a marketer in promoting the good work done by computing professionals.
Such marketing savvy may involve recruiting an entirely different kind of technocrat. Rau says more and more IT organizations within business are embracing the idea of a sort of IT customer service representative assigned to business units and tasked with seeking to understand what the business customer needs.
“IT needs to say we need different personality types,” Mr. Rau continues. “Not only technologists to do the research and development work, but also sales types, architects and planners who can run different functions within IT. I have never met a CIO who says we need a selling function or marketing function [within IT].” These are all interesting suggestions. The fundamental problem with Rau’s idea is simply that it may not be practical.
IT professionals, especially in small business, spend most of their time engaged in what is often described as firefighting mode: just keeping things up and running. IT staffs over the past number of years have been cut to the bone as businesses have sought to streamline computing departments. Today’s reality for IT professionals in business is that they must do much more with much less. Rau admits you can’t even think about marketing IT until your business has its technology functioning smoothly and reliably.
But in many companies, IT rarely runs smoothly and reliably. In my view, what’s also needed is to spread the responsibility. Shift the onus for IT success within business to the business user. Task them to get the most out of technology investments and measure the improvements and efficiencies gained. That’s what the most savvy IT companies (typically computing companies that sell products and services) are doing these days.
Network equipment maker Cisco Systems is a good example. At an IT World Canada “CIO Canada Frankly Speaking” breakfast meeting in Toronto earlier this year, that company’s CIO explained how Cisco operates on a business principle that closely tracks revenue per employee. The bar constantly rises and employees must continue to work efficiently and productively in order to maintain and increase the ratio.
Effective use of IT is critical to achieving that end, and the mandate from the very top of the organization is that business units and employees must show return on investment in IT.
That’s the ticket. The combination of marketing by IT professionals and the ultimate responsibility of IT’s success placed on the shoulders of business users goes a long way in improving both how most companies feel about technology and the people who manage it.
— McLean is editor-in-chief of IT World Canada and can be reached at [email protected]