I have been reading many predictions from the modern Nostradamus’ out there (should that be Nostradami?) that the end of the IT department is near. Rigid, stingy and mean seem to be the characterizations of choice, along with out-of-touch. Well, as the head of our small IT department, I am looking forward to retiring, after I train my successors to take over, and none of us fear losing our jobs. I realize that a small group like mine doesn’t face the same challenges as our counterparts in large corporations, but I think some of the things we do could even benefit the big guys.
Be part of the business – This is perhaps the single most significant bit of advice I can offer an IT guy. So many of my peers talk as if they are a service organization to an unknown entity, instead of an integral part of a company. For IT to succeed, everyone in the department needs to know what their company does, why they do it and how and why they use technology. I didn’t make that bit of advice up; they told me that in Systems Development Management class over 30 years ago – the validity of that advice has NOT changed since then. If IT is going to get out of reactive mode, the people in IT need to know where the company is heading. If you are not a welcome part of the meetings and discussions necessary to meet that goal, take a tip from an old boss of mine and “insinuate yourself into that process.”
Own Your World – Do not be the last people to understand technology. When I started seeing people show up carrying iPads, I bought them for my staff and we started working to figure out how we can make these useful. We are now exploring whether or not we could offer desktop computers and iPads to people instead of laptops. I read an article last week where a woman in IT said “I doubt anyone is going to give up a laptop for an iPad, and I can’t afford to buy them both devices.” I am guessing that was an assumption on her part. I have talked to my users and they can’t wait to trade a laptop for an iPad and a desktop computer, if I can satisfy a short list of requirements. The iPad is lighter, cooler, the battery life is longer and it doesn’t have to come out of the bag at TSA. From my point of view, the combination of an iPad and a desktop is also cheaper and easier to administer.
Make Your Case, NOT on ROI – Pull yourself out from under the focus of the number crunchers who look at IT as a cost center only. Know enough about your business to be able to explain how technology can help, what technology needs to be improved (and why) and what the benefits are of the stuff you see coming over the horizon. Stop reading the pundits and start reading WIRED. Stop listening to the accountants, and start listening to your children. Stop having lunch with your hardware sales rep and go touch a bunch of stuff at the Apple Store – ask yourself “how could they use this?” I could not make an ROI-based case for SharePoint in our organization. Instead, I told my boss all the things we could do with SharePoint, and I explained the benefit of doing all those things within a common platform. He let me proceed over five years ago, and we have been building SharePoint out, little by little, ever since. SharePoint is growing and we are doing more things with it today than I ever imagined we would in 2005, and we are hiring people to help make it work better.
The Answer is Yes – The answer is always “Yes!” Never answer a question about technology by explaining the costs, or the obstacles, or the staff required, or the hardware required. Talk about those things later, after your customer knows you can do the work and you are willing to do the work. My mechanic has never told me he can’t fix my car, he has, on occasion talked me into buying a new car, but he always starts by saying “yes, I can fix that.”