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Practical Analysis: Reacquaint Yourself With Your Changing Business

In companies that have had large numbers of layoffs, what you thought you knew about how your colleagues do their jobs is no longer valid.
There's been a lot of talk lately about the merits of empathy, primarily with regard to whether it's a characteristic to look for in a Supreme Court justice. Empathy's not a bad trait for anyone to possess, and it's a particularly good one for IT professionals to have. One of the reasons I think that IT managers and their technical specialists should spend some time with their peers in the business is to engender understanding and empathy in both directions.

If you're working for a company that hasn't had layoffs, count yourself incredibly lucky, both because you have a job and because you haven't had to take over the responsibilities of your laid-off ex-colleagues. It's hard to understand what it means to the salesperson who just picked up another 10 accounts, the delivery driver who's route has been lengthened, or the customer service rep who has to handle 20 more calls a day unless you've actually spent some time with them.

At the same time, business pros aren't likely to tell you about all those things IT does that could be done more simply or that aren't all that important to begin with. Does the sales team actually use every report that IT creates? Are there applications that IT is maintaining that are no longer used because the people who used them are gone? In an economy where unemployment is pushing 10% and underemployment is even higher, those still on the job need to ensure that every minute spent at work benefits the company in critical ways. All those nice-to-have services must be shelved in favor of everything that has to be done just to keep the business going.

In that light, spending time with line-of-business partners seems like a luxury. However, only looking inward is the last thing IT can afford to do. Particularly in companies that have had layoffs of 10% or more of their workforce, jobs throughout the business have changed drastically. In those organizations, what you thought you knew about how your colleagues do their jobs is simply no longer valid.

When I last wrote about this, one reader suggested that IT needs two career tracks: one for managers who should get to know everything about their business from the customers to the mail room, and another track for technical pros, who should be focused on furthering their technical expertise and not concerned about what drives the business. While I couldn't agree more that IT organizations need a track where technical excellence is rewarded with a solid career path, I still think those technical experts need to spend real time with business peers. As businesses radically morph themselves to stay alive in this rough economy, everyone needs to understand what's going on, and not just at a philosophical level. Feeling the pain that goes with these gut-wrenching changes is important because it instills a sense of urgency.

InformationWeek Analytics is doing its part to help. A number of our recent reports have probed the question: What does the business think of IT? You can find one such report at cxoreport.informationweek.com.

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Analytics. Write to him at [email protected].

To find out more about Art Wittmann, please visit his page.

Register to see all reports at InformationWeekAnalytics.com.

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