Information Technology’s Role in an Organization

Where does technology fit in the mission of an organization?  Where does it fit in the structure?  This is a question that businesses have struggled with for the last several decades as computing use has spread from a few mainframe operators working alone to every employee using several devices daily.

Much of the struggle stems from a misunderstanding of what the Information Technology department does.  I believe that comes from those roots where only a few people understood how to use the mainframe and everybody else in the company made requests to them.  IT is still viewed as a service department where a request for help comes from the end user.  Too often IT is not integrated into the corporate vision, mission and culture, but rather stands on the sidelines waiting to be called. This misunderstanding is wasting a valuable and expensive resource.

Instead of being pulled along, IT should be driving new efforts.  We live in an age where an upstart tech company can take on a large corporation and drive them out of business because they do something better and more efficiently.  All around us we see technology be the force between new initiatives, and that is what should be happening in our own organization.  In order to bring that about, IT needs to:

  • Be engaged in the mission of the organization. IT can become too focused on keeping the equipment running and lose the big picture of why that equipment needs to work. It is the vision that still drives excellence when the day to day frustrations bog you down.
  • Be embedded with people. You can fix somebody’s problem in five minutes, but you cannot provide a solution.  Spending time with people is the only way to really understand what they need. The importance of visiting them in their environment, whether their office or their project location, cannot be overemphasized.
  • Understand the jobs of the people they support. Too many times IT helicopters in and tries to solve a problem without understanding the context.  To help field personnel, the IT person needs to understand what living on the field is like and something about the work they do, be it linguistics or translation. To help the finance department, they need to have a basic understanding of accounting.  To help advancement, they need to join them on visits to donors.
  • Be aware of current trends. The world of computer technology changes faster than any other area in history.  This is both exciting and daunting.  It is a challenge to keep up with all that is happening, but new products, services or technologies may help solve long standing problems.
  • Be included in the decision making process. Whereas others will have a good idea of what is happening in their own department, IT has a view across the organization. If an IT person is doing everything mentioned here, they have some of the best understanding of the organization, the people, the problems, and solutions that would work.  They can recommend the appropriate technology that can give the organization a strategic advantage.

A good translation takes into account both the context of the original text and the context of the people hearing it now.  IT is no different. We must take into consideration the context of what a piece of technology is meant to do and the context of the user.  Marrying the two together provides the ideal solution.

It is only when all of these pieces come together that the organization truly benefits from technology.  IT stops waiting for requests for help.  It sees the needs and the current available technology and is able to be proactive with solutions.


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