Behind Closed Doors: Being valued

The IT sector should throw off the shackles of the past and look forward by adding value for our customers, instead of waiting...


The IT sector should throw off the shackles of the past and look forward by adding value for our customers, instead of waiting for the axe to fall, says Colin Beveridge.




Let’s admit it, we all know that the IT job sector is shrinking faster than you can say “return on investment”.

Very few companies are recruiting technology staff at the moment and it seems that, for the foreseeable future, more and more businesses will continue to downsize, shedding many good staff in the process.

For those of us who wish to remain working within IT, our long-term prospects may be extremely challenging, to say the least. We do indeed live in interesting times.

Perhaps, though, this situation isn’t just the result of a wider economic downturn.

Perhaps we are now experiencing a long overdue shakeout of a bloated sector that has enjoyed incredible growth over a sustained period, culminating in the investment frenzy of the late 1990s, fed by Y2K and the dotcom bubble.

Or, perhaps, we are facing the first signs of computer industry maturity, repeating the lessons learned 20 years ago by the manufacturing and engineering industries.

That is how I see the current state of play - the technology market is going through a major self-adjustment that will drive down prices and salaries until it establishes a new equilibrium between supply and demand.

So let’s not fool ourselves. This is not a blip on the radar screen, it’s a fundamental change to the way our industry works.

From now on, the market for technology skills, services and products will be satisfied through radically new delivery channels, largely empowered by technology - to overcome the historical issues of cost and geography.

Now there’s irony for you. We are responsible for exposing ourselves to competition by having done such a good job in the past to lay such sound foundations for communications efficiency and corporate infrastructure.

But it isn’t all just a question of new service channels and opportunities for cost-saving.

The underlying challenge is that our corporate colleagues, customers and paymasters have finally woken up to the reality of technology, that IT is a tool, not a magician’s wand. And, like any other tool, the genuine value of information technology is in the skilled hands of the holder, not in the tool itself.

Furthermore, now that so many IT applications and services have become more or less commoditised and widely available, the balance of technology power has irreversibly swung away from the hands of the “craftsman/technician” and firmly towards the commercial managers of the business process.

The sooner we all recognise this new fact of life, the better, because then we will have far more chance of remaining relevant to our employers.

And there is only one way for us to be sure of being relevant – by adding value.

After all, if we are not perceived to add value then, collectively and individually, we will always be at risk of substitution, or elimination.
I believe therefore that the first thing we have to do is to change the way in which IT is regarded within our organisations.

At the moment, I suspect that far too many organisations see their IT as a hindrance, and we have been our own worst enemies by accepting our previously undervalued position as "costs” or “overheads”.

No wonder then that we are struggling for the recognition that we should deserve in the corporate pecking order.

We need to transform ourselves into a new value proposition and the quickest way to do this is by getting rid of these old shackles that have hampered us for so long.

Let’s start by chucking out the “negative” terminology applied to the IT function, and forget about tags such as “cost centre” or “corporate overhead”.

From now on we should refer to ourselves as “value centres”.

This is not a piece of simple badge engineering, though. We can’t just hope to become valued overnight, simply by changing our accountancy tags. If only.

No, we have to follow through with a radical overhaul of our own IT functions – to ensure that we demonstrate genuine desire to ooze added business value at every opportunity.

Another major problem is that for far too long we have tended to organise ourselves into clusters around particular technology, rather than into functional lines that our business colleagues and partners can recognise easily and work with comfortably.

So let’s reorganise away from the technology lines, run our departments as “a business within a business” and show the rest of the company what we can really do to help them.

Believe me, it does work.

It is a simple fact that the most successful IT departments I have observed over the past 20 years have been those that have embraced a truly commercial approach to service delivery, even where the nature of the encompassing organisation has not been a strictly commercial operation.

I also think that the primary reason for their success has been their desire to prove their value to their customers, rather than meekly accepting the role of corporate cost-centre scapegoat.

The mission statement for a business-driven IT department is simple, there is one absolutely fundamental question that each of us should ask ourselves every day: how can I add persistent value to a successful organisation?

As far as self-preservation is concerned, this question also helps us individually to maintain our own personal value proposition so that we can focus on a relevant future, instead of continually looking over our backs waiting for the tap on the shoulder.

In what ways have you added value to your company? Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Colin Beveridge is an independent consultant and leading commentator on technology management issues. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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