Enabler in Chief

Its time for a re-think of ICT’s role in the business. We should embrace our role as enablers of great works, not the centre of the world.

I love what I do.  Lately I’ve been playing with IOT.  I know very little about electronics.  I can read the squiggles on a circuit diagram and I know what most of them mean but I don’t understand why they are arranged the way they are.  It’s like reading music, I know the notes but I can’t fathom the whole piece.  Learning these things is like unpacking a mystery and I find it immensely satisfying.  From a software perspective though I’m on less shaky ground.  But even in that realm I’ve had to revive old skills.  I have to be careful with memory again for instance.  Who’d have thought that?   The wide-eyed sensation I’m getting with this technology takes me back to 1980 when I first played with an Apple II.  The toys of my youth were blown away in that moment.  I was hooked.  Trips to the Angle Park Computing Center followed and I can proudly say that I have written code with punch cards.  Computing has been a huge part of my life for over 35 years.

I love technology but over time I realized that its really  a means to an end.  IT is or should be at the core of  every business regardless of what it does.  It’s almost never why the business exists in the first place though.  Supermarket chains for instance might have big IT teams but they’re all about the efficient marketing of bread, milk and nappies.  Banks, despite being giant information systems aren’t about IT.  Their purpose in society is to assist in the efficient allocation of capital.  This has a huge impacts on everyone’s lives.  Arguably, even software companies aren’t about IT.  The software they produce is only a tool used to solve problems in the real world.

Does this mean that a life-long passion for technology is somehow misguided?  Quite the contrary.  It’s empowering to know that IT is one of the only professions that has the potential to improve all the others.  We are merely the enabler of great works.  The trade off is that we have to let go of the expectation that our role will be understood and valued as we’d like.

I think technologists need to rethink their role with a new title:  Enabler in Chief.

How do we move from being technologists to enablers?

  • Walk a mile in their shoes. Challenge ourselves to always see things through the eyes of the business. It is our job to explain and justify our role. Often what we value will not be valued at all by those who pay for it. Explain and justify things from the perspective of the business. Shifting our perspective will improve dialog and promote respect.
  • Find a way to say yes.  The business will do it anyway.  It is better to make it easy to do things the right way rather than risk the business doing it the wrong way.  Be the enabler, not the blocker.  Our job is to help them achieve their goals.  The more we say yes, the more we will be valued.
  • The business isn’t the enemy.  I’ve lost count of how many conversations I’ve had where “users” are vilified.  When did a simple word “user” become pejorative? Words matter.  All calls to service desks start with “System X is broken and I can’t do Y”.  X is not important.  Doing Y is what is important.  Empathise with people, we’re all on the same team.
  • Learn who we work for.  There is often a demarcation between the IT world and the business.  Take time to learn what the business does and why.  In a big, complex organization this can be fascinating.  When we start to see the wider context our true value emerges.  What we see will percolate.  Suggestions for improvement will emerge and will be implemented.
  • The technology bit is usually the easiest.  Lasting, meaningful change happens gradually and painstakingly.  Respect this and understand that it is often why initiatives either fail or never get off the ground.  Usually the technology component of a solution is the easiest bit.

We should keep all of this in perspective though.  Keep true to the passion that inspired our choice of profession but respect that it is real world problems that pay for it all.


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