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Can This Profession Be Saved? An IT Leader Says Yes

An IT leader who also heads up E-commerce shares his views on the initiative and responsibilities business-technology managers need to seize to shake off stereotypes as detached techies. You'll enjoy Bobby Nakanelua's observations on how IT pros can demonstrate that they're valuable teammates rather than roadblocks to be avoided.

An IT leader who also heads up E-commerce shares his views on the initiative and responsibilities business-technology managers need to seize to shake off stereotypes as detached techies. You'll enjoy Bobby Nakanelua's observations on how IT pros can demonstrate that they're valuable teammates rather than roadblocks to be avoided.Nakanelua (bio at bottom of this post) put his thoughts together after reading a couple of recent Global CIO columns challenging CIOs and the IT profession to keep changing with the times: "Why Do CIOs Get No Respect" and "The Excellent Opportunity Facing CIOs." Here's what Bobby wrote - do his experiences match up with yours?

I recently attended an e-commerce marketing conference that offered an excellent mixture of strategy, high-level discussion, and specific actionable items. The current economic climate was a choice topic of discussion and I found myself taking page after page of notes.

However, midway through the conference a subtle undertone became all too clear when one of the presenters - the co-founder of a leading e-commerce site - talked about his IT team and the challenges they presented him. He anecdotaly discussed his shock when his IT team told him something was going to be "easy to launch." His co-presenter, a vendor who had supplied part of the technology solution, made it a point to highlight that no IT involvement was necessary.

And I shifted nervously in my seat as I realized they were saying that when it comes to IT projects, they expect to be confronted with roadblocks and hidden problems and inflexible approaches - they were saying that they don't see IT as part of the solution.

It was in that moment that I also realized that I was in the minority on this discussion of IT capabilities. Trust me, I'm no starry-eyed beginner: I've read many articles about the struggle between IT and other business groups, and have heard all the stories about bypassing IT with rogue systems.

But at my company, all of us - the IT team and everyone else - have worked hard to build a different dynamic, one where the IT team is an active and indispensable part of the business rather than being regarded as a drag on it. Our IT team has built scalable multi-channel gift-card programs, integration solutions, and even mobile-productivity applications. We've launched an entirely new business venture from concept to customer acquisition. None of these successful projects would have been possible without our highly skilled team or the confidence of our executive management team.

So as I recognized the very different mood at this marketing conference, I couldn't help but wonder where we, the IT profession, had gone wrong. This conference was telling me that our peers in marketing -- and probably other business groups as well -- see us as slow to implement and incapable of delivering the rich solutions that perhaps outside vendors could provide.

And I also realized that whether or not we in IT agree with this unfortunate stereotype, it's our responsibility to change this dangerous impression that IT folks are introverts with little or no focus on customer service. And I have a couple of suggestions for how we can do that:

  • Benchmark your IT engagements with internal colleagues in the same way your customer service department is benchmarked in dealing with external customers.
  • Don't punish your team for honest mistakes -- allow them to fix their issues and learn. It is through attempting "the impossible" that we create innovation and build elegance.
  • Challenge your team to get certified and other types of valuable training because those certifications help boost self-esteem and creativity.
  • Push your team members outside their comfort zones and give them projects that demand them to learn new skills, expand their knowledge of other business groups, and most important of all, require interaction with customers.
  • And focus everything you and your team do on earning a reputation as eager, externally focused teammates who solve challenging business problems with elegant and powerful solutions.
  • IT leaders must be more - much more - than just dependable IT guys who try to help cut costs. In today's difficult economy, we in IT also need to take a full share of the responsibility to help create those business solutions and opportunities. And that will go a long way in helping to change the perceptions that surround us.

    I hope that at the next marketing conference I attend, my belief that IT teams can provide incredible value will be shared by the majority, not the minority. But it's our job to take the initiative and make that happen.

    Bobby Nakanelua (MCP, MCTS, Security+, MCBMSS, SBS) is the Director of E-Commerce and IT Manager for a leading distributor of military and law-enforcement equipment. He has over 10 years of experience as a developer, network administrator, manager and entrepreneur.

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