The 7 things IT managers need to know about business

Peter Crush

Thursday 19 February 2015

When it comes to IT departments’ ability to understand and be involved with the rest of the business’s future strategy, it seems that some of the old stereotypes – such as IT folk being geeky and uninterested in the organisation as a whole – are unfortunately still a reality.

In an amusing article from PC Pro, entitled ‘Why Everyone Hates the IT Department’, the picture painted is of a group “interred in the basement, cut drift – both physically and geographically – from the rest of the company”. IT managers are, they say, the first to be blamed when something goes wrong, but the last to be credited with any success.

According to some though, IT managers don’t always make it easy for themselves. For many workers, they are the people that ban the use of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), restrict internet usage and refuse to allow third-party apps. It may all, admittedly, stem from a desire to maintain security, but to staff this is simply out of kilter with what they want to do, and with how work as a concept is changing. It’s no surprise that a survey by OneLogin found that many staff are simply bypassing the IT department altogether, with 71 per cent deliberately using apps that had “not been sanctioned” by them.

Why the discord? The unavoidable truth is that IT managers are proven (by organisational psychologist Billie Blair, for one) to be different. This is good, in one respect, because they are highly technically competent, and are natural givers. The bad news is that this develops into a ‘them and us’ mentality at management level. So what does today’s IT manager really need to know about the rest of the business? Here’s our ‘What You Need To Know list:

1) Different technology suits different needs and functions

IT managers need to have a much broader understanding of how different departments work, as well as what technology they’ll need and when. “As technology evolves, so does the range of expertise needed to match,” says Mike Beresford, MD at Randstad Technologies. He believes it’s no longer sufficient to be a master of technology, but also a master of disciplines, and how technology supports them: “The technology sector encompasses so much more than in the past – from cyber security, to big data analytics, to app development. The most successful tech workers are masters of a broad range of areas in the business.”

2) Understand what the business does

The greatest value IT managers can add is knowing where the business is going and what technology solutions will be able to facilitate it in a smooth and speedy fashion. Says Dominic Smith, marketing director, cloud solutions provider, Cerillion Technologies: “It’s impossible for a company to respond to market changes when they can’t rely on being able to change their back-end IT systems fast.” He adds: “For instance, a company may have operated on a traditional single-price solution. But as soon as organisations realise they need more of a pay-per-usage model, or a bundling service, then, without the IT manager being tuned into this, they won’t be able to come to market fast enough. This is where the IT manager can add real value, by suggesting alternative solutions. He or she needs to be a business partner and sit at the top table.”

3) To speak the FD’s and CEOs language

“The idea that IT people are slightly malfunctioning super-geeks is changing,” suggests Jon Denton, also at Randstad, who works with tech clients including Vodfone. “What businesses are looking for is people who know how to solve technical problems, but who do so in a practical way, and on more of a human and business level.”

4) That business runs in cycles

This is a tougher one to swallow. While IT programmes often span many financial quarters, the rest of the business thinks in much shorter timescales, and wants updates accordingly. Too many projects fail to return the ROI wanted, so IT managers need to think more like accountants!

5) Being proportionate and considerate to the rest of the business

Scare stories – like the fact that, in 2013, 93 per cent of large businesses reported that they had suffered from a security breach – make great headlines, but IT managers must distinguish between hype and reality. This includes weighing up the true impact of BYOD and how short-term pain to set up systems to support working from home actually helps organizational productivity and staff engagement goals.

6) Know what staff know

Listening to what staff want is vital. Already, HR IT systems are widely acknowledged to be failing to address employees’ demands, and this is hindering staff productivity and operational performance (according to NGA HR’s recent ‘Mind the Gap’ report). The research found only 28 per cent can log onto HR systems via a tablet, while only 24 per cent can do so with a smart phone. “Systems need creating that are employee-centric: easy to use so staff can take advantage of productivity improvements. adding value to the business,” says the firm’s CEO, Jonathan Legdon.

7) Be futurologists

The biggest role IT managers need to play in the business is that of futurologist. Wearable technology is set to be this year’s major technology development. Are businesses ready to equip their staff, and know what customers will want from it?

Generalisations are always of limited value, and those made about IT departments are surely no exception. But, follow up on ideas above, and you’ll be a long way towards shaking off any negative image.