Techies must rebrand themselves as 'integral'

IT professionals still seen as personnel who serve other departments, rather than as an integral part of the business, notes IASA CEO.
Written by Edwin Yapp, Contributor

KUALA LUMPUR--IT professionals must rebrand themselves as executives who can speak the language of CEOs, so they will be accepted as valued members of their company's strategic team, urges an industry expert.

Paul Preiss, founder and CEO of the International Association of Software Architects (IASA), said many of today's IT professionals are seen as personnel who serve the business, rather than regarded as an integral part of the business.

"We don't hear of people splitting the [roles for] head of finance and business, or the [roles for] head of sales and business," Preiss told ZDNet Asia in an interview, at the sidelines of the IT Architect Regional Conference here last week. "IT is perhaps the only strategic area where there is a dichotomy between the two."

Be certified as IT architects

The IASA last week introduced its Certified IT Architect (CITA) Foundation professional certification, aimed at helping professionals become IT architects, and transition from a technical to a business mindset.
Developed over four years through collaboration with academia and private sectors, CITA is touted as a vendor-independent global IT architecture certification and is based on the IASA's IT Architect Skills Library, a collection of resources for practising IT architects.
Interested IT professionals can enrol for the certification from Oct. 2009, through two four-day courses. There are also plans to introduce the CITA-Associate and CITA-Professional certifications in early-2010, and the CITA-Master certification in the future.

He cited how senior IT personnel such as CIOs, have to serve other departments within a company simply because they are running the IT department. This, he noted, is due in part to how the IT profession as a whole has failed to position itself as having a strategic role within a company.

"IT professionals need to ensure IT doesn't [just] serve the business users but the business shareholders, too," he explained. "In order to do that, they must embrace an architectural mentality and become IT architects rather than just act as technical people."

Likening the role of an IT architect to that of a building architect who envisions the entire design of a building before it is built, Preiss said good IT architects think in terms of technology strategy but speak in terms of business value.

The role of IT architects is not just about understanding technological jargon but also about the ability to articulate in terms of market share, effectiveness, segmentation, business goals and revenue growth, he said.

"An effective IT architect is one who brings business value to his CEO and board members, as he always ensures an IT project is not a liability but a way of generating new revenue or reducing overall expenditure. Doing so effectively means he will be able to command the respect of board members and CEOs," he added.

Wrong IT performance benchmarks
Preiss said another reason IT is seen as serving the company is due to the way the success of IT projects are currently measured. Today, IT projects are either benchmarked by completion time, or whether they are within budget, or if they have met their objectives, he explained.

"We don't use these kinds of measurements in finance, sales or marketing," he noted. "In fact, such divisions are judged by how they generate revenue and if they support the overall business plans. Only IT projects are judged on such an arbitrary measure and unfortunately, these are wrong measures for IT success."

Preiss said these challenges are a global problem, and not necessarily Asia-centric. This is why, he said, the IT industry as a whole needs to rethink how it is going to address this problem.

Asked why the IT industry has been slow to address these challenges, Preiss said: "The IT profession is only now getting ready as a workforce. We needed a large enough body of knowledge in the different roles before we could formalize what an IT architect entails. But, now that we do, it will help the industry become more concerted in its effort to groom IT architects."

Still nascent in Malaysia
Hasan Ganny, president of the IASA's Malaysia chapter, said the concept of IT architecture in Malaysia is still at its infancy, noting there is some way to go to bring the IT workforce to a professional level.

"We are at the threshold of implementing advanced IT infrastructure, such as green IT and cloud computing," Ganny told ZDNet Asia in an interview at the conference. "That's why the IASA is helping to educate our local IT workforce so that they will be able to meet these challenges."

A senior IT executive of a multinational company involved in the manufacturing of PC components, noted that while the disconnect between CEOs and CIOs "is not that bad in Malaysia, there is still a lot of room for improvement".

"In Malaysia, we have a lot of good technical people who start out with good intentions but don't see the overall business picture," said the executive who spoke to ZDNet Asia on the condition of anonymity. "Business must ultimately drive technology so that it can make things better, but unfortunately many still do not know how to do that."

Edwin Yapp is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.

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