Organizations have IT departments, but they don’t always understand how the IT department can best help. Yes, we keep the computers running. But there can be more than that. Much more.
Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as just telling the rest of the organization how to think about IT. The responsibility is not with the rest of the company to believe IT understands the business. The responsibility is on us to show that we understand it. Frequently.
Portions of this article are excerpts from my book, The I.T. Leaders’ Handbook, available in paperback and ebook from fine bookstores everywhere.
Sometimes we have to do this informally, with hallway conversations or side meetings. Sometimes we have to insert ourselves or an IT member into early scoping conversations on a project. We have to change how our department talks, to make it less about the technology and more about the business process.
Can we sit in a meeting with a department, contributing to the discussion, and not mention technology at all? Can we restate the business problem in our own words without talking about the technology?
This takes time and isn’t easy. We must look for the opportunities to be involved in those earlier discussions and make the most of them.
Once the rest of the organization has a good idea of what IT can do and views IT as a partner in running and improving the company, how should the organization think about IT? The best analogy is the throttle on a car.
Throttle for Change
Most business process improvements require IT involvement. If the business wants to go faster on business process improvements, then IT can be a bottleneck. Increasing resources in IT will allow for more business process improvements.
There are two ways an organization can increase resources in IT: headcount (internal or contract) or business support. Business support refers to the resources available to work with IT to create requirements, answer questions, test solutions, and help with the rollout.
Like the throttle on a car, more throttle means more speed. More IT ability to deliver functionality means faster process change for the business.
Having more people — stepping harder on the throttle — will allow the business to go faster. To change faster. To improve faster.
This throttle concept also applies to parts of the company. If leadership decides that a particular department needs significant improvement, more IT activity can happen in that area.
We might ask: How Do We Get More Support For IT? This is actually the wrong question. It isn’t about how we get more support; it is about how we can better support the organization. Staff groups (IT, HR, Finance, etc) need to understand the overall vision of the organization and take the correct actions.
This often conflicts with what best practices in our department tell us. For example, in HR best practices, a comprehensive succession plan is important for the long-term health of the company. And it is. But it isn’t always the best for a particular company. A smaller, more lightweight version of succession may satisfy the needs of a particular organization.
So what does this mean for IT? First, we should keep up on best practices. Trade magazines, peer organizations, and websites can be useful. Industry gatherings with seminars, webinars, and open bars give us the chance to talk with others. Stay connected with peers through lunches or phone calls. Keep up on new technology, what others are implementing and why, what problems people are having and how they are solving them. I have been fortunate to be a part of several vendor-free organizations made up entirely of IT professionals. These organizations are great for staying aware of how our peers are handling their IT world.
For each department, we should know what is important to them and what they are trying to change or improve. Can we, with no preparation, give a ten-minute presentation about the challenges each department is facing?
We should have a good idea what changes are happening in the industry and the issues and responses of peers at other companies. We need to understand how our company works and what department managers are trying to do with their areas. We must understand the culture of our company and what top leadership is trying to do.
What do we do with this understanding?
Stay connected with the organization’s leaders and understand what they are trying to do. Show that we understand the challenges facing the organization and that we can contribute to finding solutions. Earn a place on the leadership team.
Merging all of this together isn’t a one and done thing. Just as we need to work to stay up to speed on technology, we need to work to stay up to speed on the organization. If we can build habits to support this, we will be better off. Such habits may include updating our teams with business information, regularly attending various department meetings (listening only!), and regular conversations with the leaders of the company.
The better the IT department understands the organization, the better IT can be a throttle for change to make the organization better.