Conceptual thinking, sound judgment and complexity mindset are three skills enabling IT-Business harmony.
More often than not, technology is the driver for change, digitalization, and business innovation. However, the difficulty exists in organizations today where the senior executive team does not know how to interface and leverage their IT investments; they do not understand the role that they should play in important IT initiatives. This pervasive problem is with organizations of all sizes around the globe. So what are the most important IT management skills for non-IT executives today? Or to put another way, what do the non-IT executives need to understand about IT?
Ask tough questions: Encourage non-IT executives not to be afraid of asking questions about technology and invite them to participate in problem-solving. It was not long ago when organizations did not see the opportunity for IT to enable the business strategy, let alone actually drive the business strategy. Thus, in order to adapt to the frequent digital disruptions facing in businesses today, it is important and likely more important today than in the past that the non-IT executives have some understanding of IT and how it relates to their organization.
The Non-IT executive needs to understand how to build a close relationship with the CIO and vice versa. Together as a team, they can achieve a synergy that cannot be achieved as individuals. The skills can be learned, but it all comes down to relationships and what is best for the organization. Since, in most organizations, business and technology are forever interwoven, so should the CIO and the non-IT Executive team. In a perfect world, CIOs and IT would be asked to the table in strategy planning. Not the case right now in most places, it isn't a peer relationship right now until that perception is turned around.
The involvement of the non-IT executive in IT initiative is essential, at least as a sponsor or champion, and perhaps more important, when considering that the value of an IT initiative does not come from the IT change unto itself, but how the business changes what they do to leverage the IT change, This becomes even more important as IT initiatives become critical to the business including revenue generating projects. For these initiatives, what is the most important IT management skill that the non-IT executive would require ensuring the business attains demonstrable value? Generally speaking, more right brainers or whole-brainers are needed; they need to be a good judge of character. They need to be independent of the subject but bring outside-in view and business perspectives. Of course, this is necessary for any senior executives. Furthermore, when it comes to measuring the value of IT investments, there's really no fundamental difference between an IT investment and any other kind of investment. Before the investment is made, the requestor should be required to identify specific measurable results from the investment, the dates by which the results will be achieved, and the specific method to be used to measure the results.
CIOs hope that their business peers or internal customers are truly experts on their lane of responsibility. It is more important that the customers or peers understand the subtle nuances of their business line in a way that allows them to formulate statements about how they need to better measure their current velocity, impact, quality, and to determine whether there are opportunities to optimize their entire value chain. At the same time, each executive would also likely understand or desire to understand important considerations regarding the other business units, especially in how they relate to theirs.
Education and skills development need to go beyond just understanding the CIO. Too often that non-IT executives do not understand, and often ask what their role should be to ensure the initiative delivers the intended value. In addition, there are too many initiatives where IT is the sponsor, and often the champion of the business. This can be problematic when the value from the initiatives does not come from IT unto itself, but how the business changes what they do to take advantage of the IT. By proactively engaging with IT, that business functions do not need to build out their own shadow IT to ensure project execution achieves desired outcomes. That by leveraging cloud services orchestrated by IT, they can take advantage of purchase power to achieve corporate efficiency often impossible to realize when investments are made in silos, especially with regard to technology. Business should know how to express a problem in the desired end state with elements of performance sampling points that could be leveraged to determine whether the effort is moving in a positive or negative direction. They should possess knowledge regarding peer, or similar efforts internal or external to the corporation to provide examples of how solutions are realized.
Three skills enable non-IT managers to understand IT with empathy: First, conceptual thinking: The ability to see the impact of actions before it exists. It can also bridge the difference and unify the common view between business and IT. Second, sound judgment: Non-IT Executives collaborating with IT must create an environment where they will apply conceptual thinking in such a way, that they can look at "the idea" and determine from multiple angles, whether such an idea will succeed. And third, complexity mindset-willingness and ability to ponder complexity: As say’s going "if you can't say it simply, you don't understand it." The interrelated world we live in is increasingly complex. Not every solution involving IT is "simple". The idea might be, but accommodating every nuance of failure is certainly not. Business managers must have such complexity mindset to understand IT and digital business as a whole with circular lens and ambidextrous capabilities.
Be transformational! IT is integral part of the business, as business manager, think IT as your strategic partner, grow the necessary skills, build the trust, collaborate seamlessly, and ensure business as a whole will be optimal than the sum of pieces.