When I ask a business leader what their top 3 challenges are, they instantly respond: "You mean my top three IT challenges?" They want to give me a list of technology problems: "I hate our mail system. My monitor never works. My laptop is slow," etc.
It is essential that I move the conversation away from their "IT Issues" to their "business issues."
Whether I'm talking to the CEO or the head of sales, they'll tell me they want to grow revenue and make sure their sales team is effective. They want new customers. They want to make sure they're building in the future. They're really interested in their representatives' productivity and they want to figure out how to more effectively use their inside sales team. When they talk about their concerns, they might mention responsiveness to the field and the fact that the field feels far removed from corporate, which can be challenging and frustrating for those reps. And they might talk about challenges with their collaboration toolset: how they share documents, how they share information with each other, how their conferencing works. Those are some of the really common issues.
When leaders lay out their business challenges, guys like me are hearing technology challenges. If you're a smart IT person, you're always listening and at the same time trying to figure out where you can and cannot help. And depending on the scope of your authority and your ability to think outside of the box, there are a lot of ways you can help those leaders be more successful with the challenges they face, in ways they might not have considered.
Use IT data to boost the bottom line
This is the holy grail: turning IT into a profit center for the business. For example, you might look at some of the data analytics associated with how the sales team is operating, try to draw some interesting conclusions, and then make that information available to the head of sales.
Suppose an IT team member is doing a routine check on Salesforce performance in your organization. They see that the time gap between new entries in the EMEA region gets abnormally long around 2pm every Thursday and doesn't normalize again until Monday. Further digging yields no technical reason for the slowdown.
An empowered IT person can take that information and say to the Regional Sales Manager: "Hey, I noticed sales activity shows a pattern of slowing down during these time periods in this region, and I've ruled out any tech issues. You may have other issues over there that are impacting sales."
That's how IT data turns into business insight you can profit from. By combining data sets and sharing that information horizontally across an organization, an IT person can uncover insights that can't be had any other way.
Empower your team to be creative thinkers
There's a quote from Dune: "He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing."
We all know that if IT screws up something significant, the business suffers. It can hurt the entire trajectory of a company. But if that's true, the converse must be true as well. As an IT leader, if I do things better and smarter, I can actually help the business grow faster.
I have to look for those opportunities. And more importantly, I have to invest in generating enthusiasm within my IT organization to look for and pinpoint those sweet spots.
For example, take an interaction where the helpdesk technician is talking to the sales person who's having a problem with their technology. If that helpdesk technician has been empowered by their management to look for those opportunities to help the business do more business—and if they're getting rewarded for their suggestions—then suddenly the good ideas start to flow and everyone feels like they're a part of it. It's a team effort. It doesn't come from the top down, but the top can influence the thought processes. (On the flip side, if all your management is interested in is whether you check the right checkboxes at the right time, go find another job.)
Find your inner artist
People don't realize that technology is inherently creative. It's some of the most creative stuff you'll ever see. If you can get beyond the techno-geek stereotype and all the acronyms and the (perhaps) less-than-perfect interpersonal skills, you end up with artists. These are people who are looking at problems and finding unique and beautiful ways, with a different palette, to solve those problems.
There's elegance to what we do in IT and there are not many people who recognize the art of doing things well. But if leadership is willing to invest the time to allow people to demonstrate that creativity, reward that creativity, and make the people in IT feel like they're a part of the success of the business, everybody wins.