Understanding Non-Technical Business Functions
These days, it’s impossible to exist in your own little computer-driven world. You have to poke your head out of your office or cubicle and not only take a look around, but also know what the other people who occupy your office space do, how their jobs relate to yours, and how their jobs and your job connect to the company’s mission and overall business objectives. If you don’t want to risk becoming an easy target for elimination, it’s in your best interest to gain an understanding of all aspects of your organization and its dealings.
“From a career standpoint, if you’re focused on only one niche area and you don’t know how that niche fits into the bigger picture, then you’re really at risk of being—I don’t want to use such a harsh word—but obsoleted because you’ve got a certain amount of skills,” said Mike Smialek, CEO of Knowledge Dynamics. “Those skills are focused in a certain area, and if the company only calls upon you for programming, and it only takes Java skills to do that programming—it doesn’t take any knowledge of the business, its markets or its customers—then you become a very replaceable resource. You can be replaced by anybody else with Java skills. But if you have a deep understanding of the customers, products, markets and the way the company works, that makes you much more valuable to the organization than if all you have is an isolated silo of technical skills.”
The days of landing a plum job with a good company and then staying the entire length of your career are over, said John E. Richards, managing director of the Kevin and Debra Rollins Center for eBusiness at Brigham Young University. In times/offices gone by, you could gradually master your particular craft and then naturally branch out into other departments when opportunities for stretch arose. These days, things often move too fast to encourage that kind of skill acquisition. Cross-functional competence is critical for an IT professional’s survival, but it’s often his or her responsibility to seek out the opportunities that will bring about that competence. This requires a good bit of initiative, and with that cross-functional or cross-departmental competence comes awareness. “To remain competitive, an individual needs to at times be a generalist and at other times be a specialist,” Richards said. “Understanding the business case for problems is vital to making proper IT decisions. It’s not just about bits and bytes, and the question ‘Does IT matter?’ has some relevance. IT without the framework of a business case is potentially wasteful.”
“The main work that someone might do day to day in implementing, operating, configuring, deploying, troubleshooting equipment, probably does not necessarily involve the need for a significant understanding of other departments,” said Don Field, the director of certifications at Cisco Systems. “However, when someone gets to the point of planning or designing technical solutions, they are creating technical solutions to a problem in the business they’re operating in. Having an understanding of their clients’ needs and their tradeoffs, the business drivers behind what they’re trying to accomplish, is important for any IT professional to successfully create a technical solution that will meet those needs. We see that in our own work with our own IT department as we look to build solutions that will be of value to the constituents that we care about.”
Further, if you want to advance up the IT career ladder, you must be prepared to metaphorically move beyond IT, said Patrick von Schlag in the November issue of Certification Magazine. Or, you must be prepared to branch out from your comfort zone and take on the soft skills and project management skills that will mark you as next in the line for promotion. Von Schlag said to ask yourself, “What are the strategies and goals of your organization? Who are your competitors? What are the key things the organization needs to accomplish to compete and win in the marketplace? How does your organization deliver real value to its customers? Then come the questions exploring how technology can be used to help support and achieve those goals.”
–Kellye Whitney, firstname.lastname@example.org