You may know them as the Department of No, but in today’s business environment of ever-evolving technology, IT should play the role of the Department of Innovation. Technology may not be the core of your business, yet understanding how it spurs growth and helps meet goals can put your company a step ahead of competitors.
Making informed technology decisions can be overwhelming; there are more packaged software options available today than ever before, each with a promise of efficiency and simplicity, not to mention that a new device to run it all comes out practically every day.
Yet even as technology becomes more integrated in everyday operations, many businesses haven’t brought on a true technical lead. They probably have an IT department or vendor that manages their hardware and network, but even then the people in IT usually don’t have decision making power and aren’t involved in strategic discussions.
When the decision-making team understands the business, but not technology, problems can arise. Similar problems come up when IT understands the technology, but not the business. Like most projects, developing or adopting new technology is a team exercise that involves many moving pieces that need to fit together perfectly for a successful rollout. These projects require planning, input, and buy-in at every stage, from every party involved — the end-client, system engineers, designers, developers, and IT department.
But, instead of working with IT and involving them in the decision-making process, many teams have carried on without the company of IT at the executive table. They still believe the outdated sentiment that IT is nothing more than a cost center run by a bunch of nerds that keep the computers running and the server buzzing.
That feeling goes back to the beginning of using technology in business, which happened to be in the accounting department. Because finance needed to use software before other departments, when an IT staff was hired they reported to the CFO.
In those days, much like today, the CFO would work with other executives to make decisions that would grow their bottom lines. Then, they would relay messages back to IT about what changes needed to be implemented or which software package they were switching to. Without being consulted and without the knowledge of why the change was important, IT classically gave a knee-jerk reaction of “No” because the decision made didn’t work well with existing technology.
Outdated as it may be, this idea prevails. Executives and IT professionals speak languages so different that it often feels like they are talking past each other, not having a conversation. Because this gap seems difficult to bridge, many times businesses end up with an executive team that is completely disconnected from technology, but still charged with keeping their company in line with competitors. And nowadays, keeping up often involves having best-in-class technology that helps businesses run smarter, faster and leaner.
But here’s the problem: looking at the technology that runs your business as a game of “keeping up” means you aren’t creating new ideas. Keeping up means that your competitors are already innovating; they’re the ones changing the standards that influence your industry, and you then have to comply with those standards to remain relevant.
The companies that lead the pack have embraced their IT staff and added them to the executive ranks. They’ve found a way to utilize their technical expertise in strategy planning and have trained them to be business-people, too. Instead of being a hindrance to the process, the input IT gives adds value from the beginning.
It’s time for both parties to give a little. Rather than asking for their involvement at the end, engaging a tech lead — a chief technology officer — from the get-go can not only position your company as an innovator, but also help you make informed technology decisions that work with what you already have, instead of fighting it.