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The Effective Syndicate Blog 

The Real Role of IT Leaders

Beau Groover

In almost two decades of working with technology professionals, I have discovered a large disconnect between technology professionals and their counterparts in the business. Business people who are fully engaged in their businesses desire - often in vain - their technology department to deliver insights, automate processes, improve customer relationships, and eliminate costs. Concepts like encryption, software-defined networking, the internet of things, and mobile features carry little weight to most business executives who are more concerned with things like market penetration, revenue enhancement, and margins.

So why, then, would IT be so focused on understanding all of the facets of the first list, while eschewing the last? I believe that oftentimes technology professionals choose their careers based on a love of technology - servers, programming, applications, networking are alluring concepts to us techno-geeks. Being able to debate the merits of hyper-converged infrastructure or how to seamlessly integrate cloud platforms makes us feel smart, like we provide something tangible to our businesses (which we are, and we do, and it is important).  

But too often, IT gets so wrapped up in the mechanics of the technology that we forget the purpose of technology: namely that business technology exists to enable the goals of the business, not to serve as a means unto itself. Add this to the tendency of IT professionals to converse in “IT-speak” and meaningless acronyms not fully understood by their business counterparts. If IT leaders do not focus their efforts (and those of their team) on delivering services that enable business results, they run the risk of being labeled as a “cost- center” instead of a “value driver.” If IT cannot converse in the language of the business, they may get head nods, but no financial support when rubber meets the road and investment decisions get made.

And this makes intuitive sense. If you were a business owner, would you rather invest your precious dollars in a easy-to-understand marketing campaign that reaches additional prospects to your business, or on a nebulous, acronym-laden disaster recovery plan for your IT   infrastructure? Does implementing a new ERP outweigh the purchase of an additional production line?

As IT leaders, we need to reshape the way we think about technology - and we need to teach this new way of thinking to our teams. We need to focus on the key drivers of our business and show our IT teams how our technology platforms support these drivers. For example, if our key business drivers depend on increasing speed to market, we need to focus our team on delivering information and process automation that increases throughput. If our business is dependent upon repeat sales from existing customers, we should focus our technology efforts on delivering a seamless customer experience. The backend stuff we love so much - servers, PCs, networks, etc. - are still important, but we need to realize that they are not-value added in the eyes of the business’s customer. And as such, efforts around these topics need to be minimized, automated, or outsourced so we can realign our valuable resources towards business results.

The result of this type of thinking results in a team of IT professionals who I refer to as  “business people who understand technology.” This team understands how their business works, how to delight the business’ customers, and how they deliver value to their business. And how better can we, as IT leaders, serve our teams than by helping them become better business people?

In additional posts, I will outline additional tips and methods to building an IT team of business people who understand technology through a concept we refer to as Continuous Improvement IT (CIIT).  CIIT applies the same concepts seen in Lean Manufacturing to the IT department to drive sustainable customer value to your business.

The old MBA-mantra is that the goal of a business is to generate a return for its shareholders. This can only be accomplished by providing value to the customer - a focus that certainly applies to IT as well.