November 19, 2012
I am a frustrated techno-geek. During my Air Force career I was a communications officer, which meant I had the privilege of working with some very smart, IT savvy individuals on a daily basis. So I worked very hard to read, ask questions and try to gain as much technical proficiency as some of my co-workers. It wasn’t a total waste of time, but it was exhausting. I never really caught up.
As I began to play a larger management role and come into contact with some very IT savvy customers, my focus changed. Instead of trying to keep up with the technology, I had to keep up with the customers’ demand for technology. Every six months or so there were requests for new software, new hardware, new capability. No sooner had my team heard about a new release of software or faster/better hardware, we’d be inundated with requests. So we’d get to work to try to figure out how to make it all work. There is no such thing as ‘plug and play’; no matter what the vendor says, there are a ton of factors to consider when bringing new technology on board. How many people ? How well will it integrate into the current configuration? Have all the bugs been worked out? Do we need a site license? How much is this going to cost? (That question is not always about the upfront costs–don’t forget maintenance!) There are so many technical issues to keep up with when adding or upgrading technology. Keeping up seems to become the name of an exhausting, impossible game. You will NEVER have enough money to keep up with demand, you can’t know everything and there is no such thing as seamless integration.
So simply ‘keeping up’ is a bad strategy for IT managers. In order to find the right balance to maintain both sanity and customer satisfaction, you have to ask some very basic questions and stay focused on the answers. The first question is, what do your customers DO? What are they trying to accomplish? You have to know the customer’s requirements better than they do and understand the effects of IT changes to that answer. If you are going to spend your time researching and staying current, spend the time with the customer in understanding their IT requirements.
The second question is, will the new technology help customers do what they do better? It should save something–time, money–or facilitate something–collaboration, communication, etc. The answer should never be about what gets easier for the IT team without first benefiting the customer. When you are done with the pain (there is always pain) of implementation, the customer perception –and reality–should be that this is “better”.
Keeping up with the technology is fun, but for the IT manager, it is only useful if you make the connection to how it directly benefits your end users. You are only successful at keeping up if you keep them connected to better business results.