Building Business-Savvy IT Professionals
By Arijit Banerjee
There is an intrinsic connect between technology and business, with technology serving as the critical means to achieve value-based outcomes. However, according to a Cisco report, 42% of businesses share a common concern around lack of business acumen and soft skills among engineering or tech teams. Technology professionals working on IT projects often lack adequate knowledge about the customers using their products, the business need and objectives that the solution seeks to address, overall business ecosystem, market risks and shifting industry trends. Inefficient processes, tools and metrics only complicate the situation further. This gap results in technology solutions and offerings which are less likely to deliver on the business objectives in most cases.
A pressing need to connect IT with business
The role of IT teams is no longer limited to fixing what’s broken in the company infrastructure or building IT solutions in siloes. Today they form the core of any organization including contributing immensely to security and R&D and enabling business in a digital world. This mandates not only a constant upskilling of technical knowledge to keep up with the latest technology developments, but also, training and understanding of the constantly changing business which their technology supports.
Effective IT- business communication plays a poignant role helping the technology team link the vision and actionable insights of IT with business goals and outcomes. Often, the IT team comes into picture only during the solution development and implementation phase. In contrast, businesses will gain a competitive edge and faster growth if business and IT were to together develop the technology roadmap and systems requirements definition and design for the business. Companies that consciously undertake effective and open communication strategies and practices between teams are more likely to gain a competitive edge than their peers.
Gartner estimates that by 2020, 100% of IT roles will require an intermediate level of business acumen. Therefore, it is up to the CIOs, technology leaders and HR to bridge this gap. Companies can effectively achieve this goal by
●Hosting quarterly all-hands meetings and town halls to update all employees on company earnings, market and competitive landscape, ongoing and new initiatives, and planned investments and projects. Encourage Q&A, feedback and discussions at these events for greater involvement and integration of all employees and cross-unit collaboration.
●Inviting guest speakers from various business units internally and externally to educate the IT team about the latest market scenario, business strategies in the undertaking and the industry ecosystem.
●Giving the technology team an overview of the actual business need, existing market scenario, business terminologies and project financials involved at the start of the project. For instance, for an accounting or financial solution, the IT can be introduced to the basic concepts of accounting, budgets, capital, and ROI so that they are aware of the domain they are supporting and deliver effectively on the project.
●Organizing periodic meetings and informal interactions where the business and IT team interact with each other and get the big picture on the company goals instead of being merely working in silos or micro teams, only aware of the work that is being done within their team.
●Sponsoring technology employees on courses that help build business fundamentals, not only to enable business, but also from a career growth perspective.
●Encouraging technology employees to sign up for management courses either as part of their professional development plan or as after work initiatives through corporate tie-ups with management institutes.
Larger organizations, with the availability of considerable flow of resources and capital, can drive a more intensified action towards building business skills among their technical staff through constant professional training and learning interventions. However, smaller organizations – given the tight budget and lean teams they operate with – may not always be able to free up resources or invest adequately in learning and development. In such scenarios, what’s best for them is to adopt a learn-teach-learn approach, where selected individuals are trained professionally on business topics and they in-turn pass on the knowledge and learning to the rest of the team.
Advantages of building business acumen in IT professionals
Fostering business understanding amongst IT professionals brings immense benefit to the business and increases the productivity of both teams. Some of these advantages include
●Complete and common knowledge of the project
●Seamless flow of work without the hindrance of ‘lack of knowledge’
●Smooth collaboration on technology solutions aiding business goals to achieve company growth