Ask business leaders to present to IT

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Marketing Talk for the CIO

In this interview, Jan Manning, SafeNet vice president and CIO, suggests having members of your C-Suite present to IT. That way, Manning says, IT teams can quickly get an understanding of your business.

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): You’ve said it’s business knowledge, not technology knowledge, that makes an IT organization successful. How do you instill that knowledge in SafeNet's IT team?

Manning: Training is essential within any IT organization and it should include both business training as well as technical training. A couple times each year, I ask various product management teams to present their products to the global IT team. This training includes what the product is, the product roadmap, and how the products fit into the overall SafeNet portfolio.

In addition, from time to time we schedule other organizations like Human Resources, Finance, and Operations to give an overview of their department or to discuss current issues they are facing with the team. This allows the team to understand who their customers are and how we impact their department as well as the overall organization.

Each year we also budget for technical training. This includes training for the systems administrators, network engineers, application analysts and developers, and project managers. There are times when project delivery commitments conflict with training goals, however we do manage to get some type of training delivered to as many team members as possible.

TEP: You’ve also said it's important for IT to think like the business it supports. How do you get IT people thinking like business people?

Manning: It is not easy at times. IT people, by nature, like to work behind the scenes creating these wonderful tools to help the “business.” The application business analysts, developers, and help desk tend to think like the business and it’s often easier for them than the rest of the IT organization. Their job duties make it necessary to understand what the business wants to accomplish, otherwise they will miss the mark when delivering solutions. These individuals are immersed in the day-to-day business and often sit side by side with their business partners.

It is more difficult with the infrastructure technical positions like systems administrators, network and security engineers. Often they don’t see a need to understand the business since their functions are thought to be behind-the-scenes activities. I think the opposite. In order to provide the best service possible or to integrate any of our products into the infrastructure they need to understand the business. They are expected to participate in the trainings or overviews of the business so they can learn or create ways to service them better.

Some technology people are interested in business and quick to think in business terms, while others have deep technical knowledge but are less adept at picking up expertise outside their tech discipline.

TEP: What's the best way to deal with the second group?

Manning: The nice thing about a technology company like SafeNet is that IT supports engineers who can speak IT language. These customers expect IT technicians to understand what they are trying to do more than they would in non-technical firms. This definitely helps the pure play technical people to understand the business. It is required!

TEP: Any advice you'd pass along to other tech leaders about how to get IT thinking like the business?

Manning: The most effective way to get IT to think like the business is to first get them to understand what the business does and what are the goals and values of the business. Ask the CEO, CFO, and other business leaders to present to the IT team. Not only ask them to provide an overview of their organization but also ask them to communicate clearly where they see the value of IT is to the organization. Where do they see them helping improve the business? This helps IT people correlate their functions with business needs.

For more on this subject read, "Business leaders want their CIOs to drive business strategy."

Jan Manning is vice president and CIO of SafeNet, one of the largest data protection companies in the United States.

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and columnist for Inc.com. She is co-author of "The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don't Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive," as well as several other books. She lives in Snohomish, Washington.

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