The Business-Focused Technologist
These days, you can find a whole lot of discourse in both technology and business periodicals, on the need for technologists to be able to interface with the business, and not just operate a stereotypical geeks in a backroom or basement somewhere. In many ways, I agree that to ensure long-term success, a technology professional should seek to be as versatile and well-rounded as possible as it pertains to business operations.
What I don't agree with, however, is that these are the only types of technology professionals that will survive or have rewarding careers. A glance at some of the more mature professionals around today suggests that there is room for both generalization and specialization. And this is not just true of the medical profession.
There are many who believe that technology is getting simpler these days. Unfortunately, I cannot concur with that sentiment. At best, much of the complexity of technology is hidden behind the scenes, covered with cute (and sometimes highly effective) GUIs, thus enabling more and more people to be able to harness the power of technology without having to be technologists. This is both a blessing and a curse, because the underlying technology *is* getting more complex, especially when it comes to integration. Technology may be easier to use, but it's certainly not easier to design, build, or fix. Many people believe that because they are regular consumers of technology, they understand its implications, including design and maintenance.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In the past two months, I've read all sorts of things that suggest that many businesses are dissatisfied with their IT departments and feel that technology teams are not able to keep up with the speed of the business (or the speed the business would like to maintain). Well, from what I have seen personally over the past decade or so, that's not at all surprising. Most organizations don't see what IT can do for their business, nor do they let IT know where they want the business to go. As a result, IT tends to be under-funded, or the funding does not line up with the actual long-term needs of the business. Is IT solely to blame for that? (As an aside, if the quarterback throws the pass directly at the receiver, who then drops the pass, it is really fair to charge the QB with an incomplete pass?)
Yes, Technology Professionals, especially senior ones, have a responsibility to get involved in what is happening with the business. They can't sit idly by and attempt to build infrastructure in isolation, since the only way to properly support something is to know what is involved with it. But, by the same token, the leaders of the business have a responsibility to bring IT to the table and ensure they they have an opportunity to be involved in the overall goals of the business. If an organization treats the IT department as a glorified order taker, then it has to share in the responsibility for the results, so long as the orders were taken correctly.
On the other hand, if an organization realizes that the IT function can add significant value to the business, and that IT is at its best when it is given the ability and responsibility of translating needs and goals into technology solutions (or, better yet, business solutions based on technology), then such an organization will see tremendous benefits such as productivity, cost control, new revenue streams and better time-to-market. And, it will provide an atmosphere that encourages technologists to be more business focused so that they can improve both themselves and the organization on a whole -- refining the circle.
Of course, not every company believes that IT is the brains or the heart of the organization -- and IT will probably not play such a role in most organizations. However, even if an org considers IT to be the liver or intestines of their organization, they have to conclude that the well-being of the technology department is still vital to the overall health of the firm. Just try and see how well you can get around in life if you damage your liver or intestines simply because they aren't the brain, heart or lungs, and don't add direct or obvious value to your own operation...
Just as there is room for both General Practitioners and Medical Specialists, there is room for your techie specialists along with your multi-purpose tech/business liaisons. Get the right mix, get them involved with where the business is going, and make sure that IT priorities are in direct support with business priorities, which will greatly reduce the opportunity for blame-casting...