by Paul T. Cottey

Why IT people should also be business people

Feb 29, 2016
IT Leadership Technology Industry

With respect to the concept of the duality of man. There is a built-in duality between non-IT people and IT people that we need to understand and embrace.

Private Joker: I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir.

Colonel: The what?

Private Joker: The duality of man. The Jungian thing, sir.

–          Full Metal Jacket

The current discussions around “the Business” (with a capital “B”) and IT, although well-intentioned, are counter-productive. This distinction drives a wedge between people whose daily responsibilities do not include delivering IT-focused capabilities and those who do, and it insults IT-focused people by implying that they are somehow not part of the profit-generating Business.

A salesperson using a quoting tool every day to configure, price, and sell widgets to a customer may be using more technology than a level-one technical support analyst, but one is an IT person and one is not. A marketing manager may be doing more detailed analytics then an IT project manager, but one is a business person and one is not. A CIO monitors the cost to serve his/her customers just as closely as a COO monitors his/her own costs, but one is a business person and one is not?

That does not make sense to me. There is a built-in duality that we need to understand and embrace.

I propose this as the appropriate description:

Not all people employed by a business are IT people but all IT people are business people.

My expectation for an IT person is that in the course of being the best IT person possible, he/she also need to be the best business person possible. This means that you, the person employed within the IT organization, should know what drives value for the organization as a whole.

The need to be a business person, even when employed within IT, is obvious for management level people, but it applies to all IT people. As a leader in the company, you should develop your team as members of the organization who specialize in IT, not just as “IT people.”

The cost of treating IT people as “business” people is fairly small. You must communicate more to them. You must listen more to them. You must provide them context for their roles and context for your decisions. Doing this will develop more well-rounded people.

You will lose some of your IT people to non-IT roles within the company if you do this correctly. But, as the chairman of the board at one of my jobs once told me: “Get over it. The most flattering thing we can do is steal your IT people for company operations.” Cold comfort? Perhaps. But flattering.