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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

IT professionals - make it your business to know your business

Over the last few months I have been collecting the skills/experiences that feature more often in IT job adds. It has been quite an interesting little research that highlighted a few interesting points in relation to technology demands in the market.
The research was done during the 3 months leading into April and covered about 60 IT job adds. I was focusing mainly on IT management and business applications positions.

One of the main findings is the ongoing need for IT professionals to bridge the gap between IT and the business. Professionals who can understand and speak business language, professionals who can translate "IT talk" into something that makes business sense.

The following chart summarizes the skills that featured more prominently in my research.



It is no surprise to me that the two skills in high demand are leadership & management and bridging the gap between IT and the business. These are interrelated as quite often leadership relates to leading the business during a transformational phase which certainly involves bridging the gap between IT and the business.

On a side note, I hate the term "IT and the business". IT is an integral part of the business and IT professionals  should not use this language. I always work with my teams to ensure that this term is not utilized and to ensure they position themselves as an integral part of the business. Maybe I will right a post on this topic sometime in the near future.

Following are a few of my thoughts on how to bridge the gap between IT and the business. I have put all of these ideas in practice and have seen very positive results.

Business education

I got the shock of my life when I first saw my schedule as a 1st year computer science student. There were no IT subjects, I was so frustrated. All I wanted to do was to write code, instead I had to spend all of my first year, and subsequent years, with a significant focus on business, language and critical thinking subjects.

Little did I know that the focus on those subjects was going to be so critical for my career. I still remember the struggle we all went through with accounting, and get that, literature. Yes I had literature as a subject in computer science. I count myself fortunate for having that sort of foundation. The only subject we had in the first year remotely close to writing code was logic. I still remember what the teacher said in the first day, she said "This is not about computers, it is all about the business". I have kept this mantra all throughout my career.

Business education has to be a key educational component for all IT professionals, particularly if you are in the business applications area. Software exists to serve a business purpose, it is imperative for you to know  what that purpose is and exactly how your application addresses it. Furthermore having business related education will equip you not only with the expertise but also the terminology you need to be familiar with in order to communicate with business peers.

Know your business

Business applications are at the core of every business. In order to be a successful applications professional you need to know the ins and outs of your business. It is not good enough to know the industry you are in, you need to know exactly how your business makes money and what is involved in the process.

Let me give you an example, the performing arts industry. There are many different moving parts in a performing arts business. Good music, programs, artists and artistic management. However, how does the company make its money? It is not through artistic management alone, or even great programs, the company makes its money through the marketing of the performances which leads to ticket sales. There are many parts that make the whole and it is important to consider and support all parts of the business, however without ticket sales the company wouldn't survive at all. IT professionals must know and understand deeply how the business generates revenue in order to support and enable its operations.

You need to know exactly how your business makes money and all the supporting technology infrastructure and applications that support and enable its operations.

Make it your business to know your business as well as those who are running the front line business functions.
IT professionals, make it your business to know your business
Be a business professional with a lot of IT expertise

In the last few years IT strategies have gone towards business partnership whereby IT business partners work very closely with other business functions in order to drive technology strategy and implementation.

IT Business Partners must be so close to the business unit they are working with that to an external observer the IT business partner is seen as a member of that business unit.

A few years ago when I was leading the business solutions team of a fast growing organization. I worked so closely with the Marketing team that I was named an honorary member of that business unit. I did speak their language and understood their function, objectives and KPIs thoroughly. I knew the strategy was working because they considered me an integral part of their team and over time the business partner I appointed to marketing did quite well and we were able to achieve great things together.

A successful IT professional must be a business professional first, who can advise the organization on the technology opportunities that can support it to achieve its objectives. You must be a business professional first.

Taking this approach can even lead to IT professionals taking roles outside of IT. For almost one year now I have setup a business function within the Commercial area of my organization. It has been so far a fantastic opportunity despite the many challenges. This assignment will make me a far better IT professional.

Wrapping it all up

IT professionals, make it your business to know your business. The IT function must be seen and operate as a business partner to the rest of the organization delivering value that drives the business forward. In order to be a successful IT professionals you must know your business as well as you know your technology.

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