Removing the technician mentality from the IT profession
In the world of technology, the idea of the microcomputer seems to be coming full circle. Bill Gates took advantage of free programming on a mainframe using a terminal in high school. He and many others were responsible for the microcomputer revolution to bring personal computing to homes and businesses. And now, the personal computer and the processing power included is becoming something superfluous for most daily computing tasks. Virtual desktop & application delivery are becoming hot topics along with cloud computing, both of which take the processing power back to a centralized location.
With this change, the mentality that surrounds information technology professionals will change as well. Right at the moment, especially in firms with a lighter technology staff, each IT professional has to wear the hats of surgeon, mechanic and when things get rough, the exterminator. It’s a weird blend of high level project management and knowledge combined with low level support and "sneaker net” (code for walking from computer to computer to run a software update).
With a move back to centralized processing and delivery, there are many IT professionals who will be primed to take advantage of the higher road – the one with project management and strategic investment in the firm. I’ll be the first to say that the infrastructure people will always be around, but in firms with the ability to centralize applications to places that don’t require a mechanic, these positions will start migrating out of the firm. And with that comes the question – what do you want to be when this happens?
If you believe you’d like to take a step in the direction of becoming a trusted professional in your firm that transcends the "shift” back to centralized technology, read on.
Find a mentor to help you transition beyond pure IT
There are mentoring programs that are very successful in firms across the country, but often they focus on the service lines in the firm. Here I am proposing a directional move, with the approval of your superiors, to find someone that has an interest in your personal development beyond technology. In many instances this person may not know much about the deep workings of IT, and that’s exactly the point. I’ve seen many, many technology people with deep operational knowledge but little true grasp of business side of the firm. In addition, the soft skills necessary for strong business relationships are often not developed in technology people.
Establish regular project briefings with key up and coming service line leaders
This does not need to be often, but the meetings should concentrate on bringing your skills beyond your current skillset. This will benefit you first, but it will also benefit the firm as you get one to one access to how the firm truly works. The process/project mind you possess will apply well to issues your mentor has. All in all, with the right fit, a mentoring relationship can not only provide you with missing skills, it will provide you with an advocate in the firm.
Develop a team of up and coming service line leaders in your firm that regularly meet to discuss upcoming technology projects and discuss upcoming projects from their area. This meeting should not focus on the technology, but the deliverable the technology enables. Each area should spend time explaining upcoming projects and past accomplishments, possibly on a quarterly schedule.
These groups establish three functions for your development beyond pure IT:
- The ability to communicate about technology projects to an audience that, although not management, has a vibrant interest in the success of the firm
- You will learn of projects that involve technology earlier in the process, alleviating gotchas and last minutes issues
- The group of people in the room should include people with drive to increase the amount of cross pollination. This is critical to not only your success, but the success of the others at the table
In these meetings, communicate to management the outcomes of the meetings. Make sure that the progress is within the strategic plan of the firm – if so, the progress made on projects will benefit the entire firm. The interaction and ability to communicate will increase your standing in the firm as a key component to project success.
Establish a dedicated program that increases overlap between business and technology
One of the magic elements of the Boomer Technology Circles™ involves bringing together IT professionals and technology partners from different accounting firms to share best practices. The model involves both facilitated discussions, peer presentations and development of accountability. It succeeds because the people in the room start with a common base. A model like this can also be used in an accounting firm to develop a program that brings the IT department into a position of authority and leadership, bringing together people with a common base from their firm to share best practices. In addition, the accountability from listening to others and being able to contribute to their success will improve both the perception of working together as well as the productivity of the firm as a whole.
This step is the most resource intensive, but the culture that it creates can transform the entire firm. Being a leader in developing a program like this will improve the success of technology projects and educate members of the firm in ways that are not possible with traditional sit down training sessions.
To learn more about the success of one such program, read Jim Boomer’s article about Bridging the Gap in this month’s Boomer Bulletin.
Each of the steps above addresses a specific aspect of your development in the firm. The mentoring takes a one to one approach, and will give you an advocate in the firm as well as needed understanding of firm operations. The regular meetings with up and coming leaders will generate good firm communication of technology objectives and prevent gotchas. Finally, establishing a circle in your firm may bridge the technology gap and make technology a desired asset in your firm that not only delivers services, but firm wide innovation and leadership.
These steps can put you in a position to succeed in a shifting information technology landscape. Each of these pieces is being used with success in firms around the country. Combining them will make your position secure and upwardly mobile. You will transcend from "IT professional” to a trusted leader in your firm with a knowledge base that is essential for the success of all projects at the firm.