How do we see ourselves as IT professionals? As corporate citizens, are we serving with our particular professional discipline, alongside our colleague professionals from accounting, HR, marketing, manufacturing, and so on? Are we effective members of the multi-disciplinary team needed for our organization to be successful in an increasingly complex, competitive world?
To do these things, we must get out of our mental datacenters and live and breathe the language and culture of our enterprises. We must step up and be effective participants and leaders in the multi-disciplinary community of professionals that is shaping the future of our home organization.
Or we can ignore the organization and stay focused on IT. We can be a part of the Career Is Over generation of CIOs who pack their IT snake oil tent every two to three years. We can move on to another organization hopeful of our help but limited by our narrow view of basic IT services.
Limited by this kind of IT-fetished anti-social behavior, we are no use in helping to advance our home organization.
These are our choices as IT professionals. Where do you stand? Below is a list of soul-searching questions that may better help you see your situation, and your behavior, as they are:
Do you think your data is far too precious to risk outside the secure home of your locked datacenter?
Have you become trapped by IT language and culture in a metaphoric mental datacenter, isolated from the rest of your organization?
Do you see the rest of your organization as separate from IT?
Do you think of non-IT others in your organization in terms of their response to your IT efforts?
Do you and your IT staff cluster for social protection at work events?
Does your IT staff have the inner sense of their professionalism rooted in IT and not in their organization?
When you venture out and visit with your business colleagues, do they talk about their business issues, or ask you about the latest smartphone?
When was the last time you left a pregnant pause?
In conversation, do you cut off non-IT colleagues, spruiking the latest IT advances?
Are you irrelevant to non-IT colleagues as they move their IT to the cloud, or do you gently steer the conversation back to their business and listen to them describe their challenges?
Do you act as business analyst sounding board for non-IT colleagues as they rehearse solution ideas?
Do you help guide non-IT colleagues in their journey to make best use of cloud, iThings, and other technologies that abound with potential?
Are you trapped in a remote, secured, and effectively deaf datacenter mindset pushing out the tired IT you know and love, and wanting to believe it's still useful?
Do you know what the latest issues are in accounting, engineering, or marketing? Would you survive a turn leading those functions? Do you understand their similar cultural challenges -- for example, in customer service? These matters are more likely to determine the outcome of a big IT project than the minor differences between technology alternatives.
What help are you to your colleagues in finessing their agendas for change? What do you know about the business?
Do you build open reciprocal trusted relationships with your colleague leaders and help IT to enable and execute their strategies?
Are you in dispute and distrust because your colleagues or their staff won't toe your IT dogma?
Are technical standards more important to you than engagement with the business?
If you answered "yes" to that last question or to those above that indicate you’re locked in your own mental datacenter, start packing your tent. You're going to need another datacenter to hide in.
I'm sorry, Neil, but I'm not sure the whole "I.T. as Ghetto" thing is entirely our fault. Even as our systems become the core of how our companies do business, the humans that build and maintain those systems are maligned and belittled, both by the CxO-level staff, and by mid-level managers who should frankly know better by now. If we are insular, and hang together socially, it may well be in self-defense. Make no mistake, we are the red-headed step-child of the corporate world, and I for one am tired of making excuses for others' bad behavior. I can't tell you the number of times I've had to explain to younger staffers that the poor treatment we receive outside the data center is simple jealousy, partially because that explanation makes the most sense to them, but mostly because it's true. What causes a silo mentality in I.T.? Ask those who built the company with rigid, unbending divisions between departments, and let me know their thoughts. Better yet, just go ahead and start cross-training your I.T. guys and gals, because that breaks down the silo mentality, makes it easier to cover gaps in this era of ever-shrinking staffing, and makes the employees more valuable, both to themselves, and to the company. Just tell the higher-ups that you're implementing "Theory X" management (where everybody is an interchangeable cog in the machine), and they'll give you their fullest support. Oh, and while you're running folks through the different processes in I.T., be sure to have them take a turn as "business analysts" so they understand the lingo and jargon used by the business and sales types to describe what should be straight-forward processes, but rarely are thanks to biz-school grads and their changes-every-four-years concepts of running a company (usually with completely no reference of any kind to reality). We're not the problem, Neil, we're the solution.
Okay, so we've escaped our mental data centres and reached the tops of our various silos. With the benefit of our strategic perchs, and our regular contact with multi-disciplinary colleagues, we've developed an enlightened view of the need for organisational teamwork. No more silo cross-fire for us.
But what are we doing to help those lower in the silos, who don't have our vista or interaction? What are we doing to help them connect with their cross-silo peers for assembly of necessary multi-disciplinary skills, both tactically and for front line execution?
Great comments by Brian and others. Why does silo behaviour persist, and these issues still resonate, given we at the top have come out of denial some time ago? Are there deep cultural behaviours at work keeping silos apart?
Good point, Brian Newby. Sometimes it seems we're so busy critiquing IT's role and responsiblities in today's organizations that we forget the importance of others' contributions. Those can be just as vital, if not more so, to the success of a business.
I've said it often--the most admirable and successful leaders are those who are equally well-versed with the customer side of business and the technical side. The IT leader who would be interviewed on the front page of Advertising Age and the front page of Network World, for example, is going to be more respected in the business community than simply someone who is viewed as an IT specialist.
The technical side of the business doesn't have to be IT, by the way. It is in this context, but it could be the logistics of the business or the financial aspects if it was more of a market-based company.
I do think the points in the post are valid but conversely, and my orientation is on this other side, those who own the customer experience and value proposition (CMOs, Sales VPs, etc.) likewise should be able to speak to the technical issues of the business. This isn't a gap that only IT people have. Silos exist in all parts of an organization.
Someone in finance cannot audit a factory's finances without having at least some familiarity with the language, the processes, the business needs involved in that factory. An engineer has to understand the the big picture needs and language of a client in order to produce what the product that client (whether internal or external) needs.
I'm not sure we as I.T. professionals *ever* were correct in thinking of "I.T. Projects." Not in the sense of being a group that serves the needs of the organization.
Sure, I.T. infrastructure ages and needs to be replaced and/or updated. But it should have always been within the larger context or the people we serve.
Sadly, that hasn't always been the case. And I don't exclude myself from that, either.
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