The idea that certain employees could bridge the gap between sales and IT is more than just a chief executive's pipe dream, says Darren Guarnaccia.
As the global economy starts to thaw, analysts have again wheeled out the familiar concept of the business technologist — someone with IT knowledge and business management skills. But how much substance is behind that idea, and what might a business technologist look like in practice?
I suppose the fundamental definition could be that the business technologist starts thinking about a business problem and then explores various technology approaches that could solve it, wherever and whatever they might be.
That technique contrasts with the common method of examining a piece of technology and seeing how it could be used to solve business problems. While the two may sound similar — and you would expect similar outcomes — they are in fact very different.
Most IT people have been more at home probing technology nuances than the details of a business process. But things are changing and considerable demand is building up for technologists who really understand how an organisation does business. Of course, they also have a strong grasp of what technology can do to improve the way the business operates.
Here are five reasons why it should be you.
1. Front-office gains
Little more can be done to improve automation and efficiency in the back office. The real gains now lie with the front office. Sales process technology and customer engagement systems offer huge opportunities for companies to improve their business performance. Yet information technologists are traditionally loath to engage with marketing and sales teams.
It is an uncomfortable area for some IT people, who often simply do not appreciate the business processes that drive marketing and sales. But if you can get to grips with them, you can help sales and marketing achieve similar levels of technological efficiency to those found in the back office.
2. Blend of skills
Not everyone has the right blend of skills. If you are fortunate enough to come from an IT background and have the people skills to engage with marketing and sales, you are immediately in a position to provide an indispensable service for your company because you can deliver differentiation — and differentiation is a good thing in any economy.
It is important to be able to communicate to business users what is possible with available technology and find new opportunities for innovation.
3. Social networking
The business world is becoming increasingly customer-driven. Social content and social-networking tools are placing real power in the buyers' hands. Organisations must adapt their IT systems to place customer interaction at their core.
It needs someone with a strong affiliation between marketing, sales and technology to pull this off, but the payoff for the business will be huge.
4. Customer acquisition
Marketing and sales are the fastest way for organisations to increase revenue. As the global recession starts to ease, this area is likely to be the part of the business that chief executives concentrate on over the next few years.
Strategies for acquiring new customers, and the technology projects that support them, are central to the business technologist's skills.
5. Shift of power
If you don't do it, someone else surely will. The latest generation of workers has grown up with technology. They have an intuitive grasp of what technology can do and they think like business people. What they may lack in terms of experience is more than outweighed by their ability to influence the IT decisions of their peers.
You can see this happening already. For example, many cloud-based marketing services are being bought at departmental level with just a credit card — often in complete disregard of the corporation's IT policies.
That shift is symptomatic of the gulf between IT departments and their marketing and sales counterparts. There is a big opportunity here for the business technologist to help bridge this gap.
We are witnessing business entering an era where technology is no longer the province of a standalone IT department. What can you do to prepare for that trend? Understand what makes your company tick, how it makes money and how it services its customers. If those issues interest you, it sounds like you are already well on your way.
Darren Guarnaccia is vice president of product marketing at content management system firm Sitecore. A regular speaker, panellist and moderator at industry events, Guarnaccia started his career as director of technology for a large financial company and subsequently ran e-commerce operations for a big regional consulting organisation.