If you're an IT professional with ambitions, show that you know how to make an impact on the business. Here's how.

Kevin Casey, Contributor

July 26, 2013

11 Slides

If you still adhere to the old-school view of IT as a support department that exists merely to help the rest of the company do the "real" work, Steven Peltzman has a wake-up call for you.

Peltzman, chief business technology officer at Forrester Research, says, "The days of IT departments existing merely to enable the business, serve the business and align with the business are coming to an end. Information technology is evolving into business technology."

Forrester, and especially its CEO George Colony, has been preaching the "business technology" transformation for several years now. Peltzman, the former CIO of New York's Museum of Modern Art, was hired as the firm's first "CBTO" -- the "B" isn't a typo -- in part to ensure the company practiced what it preached to clients.

No matter your own organization's approach to job titles, org charts and other corporate matters, the business technology mindset can be adapted widely by IT pros looking to ensure their strategic relevance now and later. Doing so can open more doors internally and externally. Bottom line: IT pros, especially those with their eye on a C-level position in their future, need to know more than how to manage a Windows environment or write Web apps.

IT recruiters will tell you the same thing -- if your resume is loaded with terms like Python and Java but woefully short on the language of the C suite, you may be unnecessarily limiting your future career opportunities.

"Companies want people [who] understand business," says Laura McGarrity, VP of marketing at the IT recruitment firm Mondo. "With technology evolving at the pace that it is, skilled IT professionals are expected to have a broader skill set and have worked across multiple platforms. It's the only way they remain relevant and more marketable."

So how do you transform a good IT resume into a stellar, well-rounded business resume? Start by rethinking and revising some common assumptions and mindsets. For example, stop referring to what you do as "IT" and what everyone else at the company does as "the business." (Read on for Peltzman's explanation of why that traditional -- and often divisive -- nomenclature damages IT credibility.)

You might also want to consider -- and possibly reconsider -- who your customers are. Hint: If your answer is "our internal users," you're off-target. Based on his own career experiences, Peltzman recommends that IT pros take any and every opportunity to get out of their offices and get to know the company's real customers -- rather than some set of anonymous customer profiles created by the sales and marketing teams. Peltzman once worked the lines as a ticket-taker at the MoMA, for instance, greeting patrons as they entered the famous museum. He did it in part to test the organization's new electronic ticketing system, but the experience had a lasting impact on IT strategy and his own career.

"There's not a whole lot that will give you more business credibility -- inside your company or on an interview -- than having firsthand knowledge of and expertise in what your customers want and need," Peltzman says. "And the only way to get that is to get out from behind the keyboard and interact with customers."

We've outlined 10 ways that IT pros can enhance their careers by rounding out their business acumen, with the goal of being able to show off that versatile skill set in your next internal or external job interview. Make no mistake: There's no substitute in IT for serious technical expertise. But in 2013 and beyond, your career may get a big boost if you're as comfortable reading a marketing plan as you are reading source code.

Have your own examples of adding business know-how to your IT expertise? We'd love to hear them. Tell us about what's worked for you in the comments below.

(Image: Eurleif)

About the Author(s)

Kevin Casey


Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses.

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