This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Smart Business Philadelphia magazine.
Not all executives have a financial or legal background. However, most would acknowledge a need to have a basic understanding of those areas to facilitate better communication with the company’s finance and law departments. Yet when it comes to information technology, executives often would rather leave all decisions to the "techies."
"IT is a newer field that started as a separate entity — a black box that we didn’t understand," says Sassan S. Hejazi, Ph.D., director of Kreischer Miller’s Technology Solutions Group.
He says executives have been comfortable delegating IT responsibilities to specialists, but there is a growing population who have taken the initiative to become more tech-savvy.
Smart Business spoke with Hejazi about the separation between executives and IT departments and the technology fundamentals all business leaders need to know.
Why do executives tend to take a hands-off approach when it comes to technology issues?
They understand the concepts, but think technology people should handle technology issues. They want to delegate these business improvements rather than get very involved themselves because they might not be familiar with the technology or are intimidated by the jargon.
What fundamentals do executives need to understand regarding technology?
Executives need a basic understanding of the:
- Right IT systems for the business; the wrong ones will not enable the company to achieve its business goals.
- Latest changes in technology. For example, IT systems are moving toward the cloud. Executives need to know what is happening with cloud technology and how it addresses the overall needs of their business.
- Impact of social media. They need to know how social media changes the ways customers interact with companies.
- Quality of data. If the right data is not being captured, decisions are not made properly. Executives need to be adamant about ensuring a high level of data quality in the system and that they’re capturing the right analytics.
Executives need to understand technology projects in order to take ownership of them and leverage specialized IT resources for those projects. If they want to gain a competitive advantage from IT investments they have to think of those projects as business improvements or business transformation initiatives rather than just technology initiatives.
When you have an IT professional in charge of an IT project, the tendency is to think of it as just a technology project. Implementing a new accounting system, client/customer management system, management dashboards or social media marketing program are very technology-intensive, but at the core they’re business projects.
How might leaving decisions to IT managers put the focus on technology instead of cost or business needs?
Even if they have an appreciation of business results, IT personnel are not impacted directly and are not involved in pricing and delivery of the company’s products and services. As a result, their decisions are focused on technological efficiencies rather than business realities. That’s why it’s important to have non- IT managers champion projects and be held accountable for their success from a business standpoint. Make sure they’re working closely with their IT counterparts, but leverage IT personnel as a resource rather than having them lead projects.
IT departments are viewed as a means to execute plans instead of participants in the planning process, and it’s often assumed that they don’t understand the business. If executive management makes decisions in collaboration with proper IT resources, it sets the tone for the organization and ensures IT managers are integrated within overall management decision-making. As non-IT managers become more tech-savvy, IT managers need to be more business-savvy. IT employees are also there to achieve business goals and involving them in the process makes them more engaged and productive team members.●