It’s more important than ever for IT/communications people to understand the businesses they serve. Technology silos are going away and communications is more likely to be more tightly integrated into business workflows. But how do you get this kind of knowledge to your technology teams? It’s a tough problem to solve.
Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe you can just do it.
My colleague Beth Schultz has just published a recap of a session she moderated at Enterprise Connect 2019, “Empowering Your Organization for a Developer-Focused Future,” and her post includes a practical list of six takeaways that just about any enterprise can use to help achieve the goal spelled out in the session’s title. Second on the list was: “Ensure your technologists know the business.”
Easier said than done, right? Actually… it could be as easy as walking around. Beth quotes panelist Carmine Lizza, CIO at financial firm Lazard, who explained that he takes his team members from cubicle to cubicle among the business unit departments: “‘Let’s go meet with some other people in our organization,’ I tell them,” Lizza explained to the EC19 crowd.
Quicken Loans has a more formal process, what it calls a “Passport to the Business” program that all technology hires must go through within six months of joining the company, according to Benn Wolfe, technology lead for the mortgage company. “This is an organized program where you go systematically through every single piece of the business, from origination through servicing -- everything,” Benn explained during the panel, adding that the program, “just pays us huge dividends down the road, when your first opportunity is to understand the top-to-bottom picture.”
I certainly don’t minimize the trap of the day-to-day, the demands of firefighting, keeping the lights on -- pick your metaphor. But if these kinds of outreach efforts and educational goals were regularly included in KPIs and encouraged informally on an ongoing basis, it should be possible. It’s easier to believe this than it would be to believe that somehow Lazard’s and Quicken’s IT departments are uniquely underworked and blessed with abundant unstructured time to go wandering around chatting up their co-workers and reading up on the business.
I also don’t think technology leaders would encounter the sort of internal resistance they might have anticipated a few years back, from executive leaders who might have seen such efforts as a waste of time for both the tech teams and the end users. Today’s workforce is tech-savvy, and it’s not just the youngest workers who understand at a gut level that better technology helps you get your job done. I’d be surprised if most employees didn’t welcome the chance to meet and swap ideas with the people whose job it is to maintain and improve the tools they use.
That might result in the IT team developing some kind of cool new integration with a great “wow” factor that changes the way everyone in the company does their jobs. Or it might result in more modest gains, like an employee learning about an application or process they didn’t know was available to them, that helps them shave time off some routine tasks or makes collaboration with colleagues easier.
Helping IT teams learn about the business isn’t really a nice-to-have any more. It’s a competitive advantage. There are examples of enterprises out there doing a good job at developing this advantage. If yours isn’t one of those leading-edge enterprises, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be.