IT is necessary but not sufficient for enterprise success. The level of mutual understanding and respect required for success demands that the business understands the dynamics of IT. That was the subject of several blog entries on the 12 things every business leader should know about IT.
It is more important that IT understand the business. The reason is simple; IT cannot be successful in an unsuccessful business. Business knowledge is situational making knowledge of your enterprise more valuable than general trends or ideas.
With that in mind, here are a dozen things that every IT professional must know about their enterprise.
1) Realize that the enterprise has choice in terms of who, how and where they get their IT. This is a new one and one that undermines many of the core practices in IT. The internal IT organization is no longer the only game in town and more competitors are coming (Cloud, Software as a service, Social Computing, etc). If you do not become the object of choice in your enterprise, then do not be surprised when the enterprise does not choose you.
2) Know how your business peers make the money that pays for your projects and salaries. That sounds harsh but its true. Unless you carry revenue responsibility you are not ‘making the rain that waters the company.’ You believe IT understands the business better than the business, but it’s the business that turns their knowledge into profit.
3) Know how your enterprise makes money or delivers its mission. There are thousands of ways to be successful-which ones are at the core of your enterprise? IT people need to know the foundation of your economic model and what defines success. Are you high volume/low value, customer intimate, low volume/high ere value? If you do not know this then you only know the technology.
4) Recognize that an executive’s number one priority really is #1. IT professionals praise their ability to multi-task viewing it as a form of productivity. In the business, multi-tasking is ok provided you deliver on your priorities. So IT professionals need to know the executives top priority, deliver to it, not be surprised when the downgrade things to get to #1 and
5) Know the business need(s) you are addressing in your project, your operational responsibilities, your service etc. A business need defines why you are doing something. A need can be a problem or an opportunity that defines the value you are delivering. If you do not know the need then you are working at a task rather than creating results.
6) Know the way things get done in the enterprise, the social systems and influence networks that define where attention goes and action comes from. As they say, you can’t know the game until you know the players. This factor increases in importance the higher up the organization you go.
7) Remember what defines success in the enterprise. There are many ways to define, declare and measure success. Knowing what success looks like from a business, technical, process; financial and social perspective is the first step in building success.
8) Realize that when executives can’t see value, the only thing they can manage is cost. Business leaders drive much of their cost based discussions about IT because they cannot see the value. So when IT presents the business with a ‘bill’ for service they naturally ask, what did I get for it? If you are good at item #5 you can describe the value. If you cannot then there is nothing else to talk about but why it is so expensive.
9) Realize that when you talk of the ‘Business and IT’ you divide the enterprise and puts IT in a pejorative position. Language is important. The word ‘and’ is normally inclusive connecting two different groups ala peas and carrots, soap and water. However when IT uses ‘and’ the emphasis is on placing the word between itself and the rest of the enterprise separating the two as if they are not part of the same system. IT and the business = us and them.
10) Admit to the fact that there are still IT projects. IT professionals like to say that ‘there are no IT projects, only business projects’, but that is not always the case. There are many IT projects that have limited or low business value. That is ok, don’t try to puff these projects up into something they are not – it damages your credibility. Rather recognize the IT projects and execute them as quickly and cheaply as possible.
11) Consider that when you tout the hero you tell others that your organization is a zero. IT is complex. Stress levels soar when IT does not work. This creates an environment that rewards the hero who saves the day. Recognize that heroes are fine for telling stories. But if you need them to operate, then you do not have a sustainable organization and therefore the business or anyone else cannot rely on you or your team.
12) Have confidence in IT’s contribution to enterprise performance. The notion that IT is a commodity gets plenty of attention and a self-fulfilling prophecy as soon as you believe it. If my organization knows the other 11 things in this list and uses them every day to focus on value, create success and delivering results you are contributing rather than commoditizing.
Know the business so you can know your role and contribution. While there are more than 12 specific things you need to know, this list provides a start for building the core of your personal and organizational knowledge. These things should serve as a reminder as I am sure that many of you already know the enterprise. If you are lacking in a particular area, that is ok because I am sure that there will be someone in the business who will be glad to offer their insight and or opinion.