Sharing our expertise

IT experts: How and why you must become a business professional

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By Adam Shapley, Senior Regional Director, Information Technology, Hays ANZ 

Advanced digitisation is pushing technology into every corner of the business world. As such, IT professionals should open themselves up to more opportunities to expand their commercial knowledge within the increasingly homogenous corporate space.

The days of IT departments working behind the scenes to keep the corporate infrastructure running in a reliable and secure way are no longer. Today, technology is breaking out of the server room and into the wider business domain as a crucial tool to keep organisations competitive. Therefore, as IT aligns with the overall corporate strategy, business acumen becomes just as important as technical expertise.

There are many different paths to enhance your business acumen, according to our ‘DNA of a CIO’ report, which is based on one-on-one interviews with 243 IT leaders in Australia and New Zealand.

According to the report, one CIO claims: “People that want to develop their career (to CIO level) should expose themselves to as many different sectors and ways of thinking as possible, because, to me, innovation, new ideas or ways to transform business don’t happen while you sit in your office.”

By embracing opportunities both inside and outside of your organisation you will be able to build your corporate know-how.

Understand the bigger corporate picture

To increase your knowledge about how your company operates and its objectives, it is helpful to know the company’s core values and use this as a foundation to build your awareness and understanding of the business going forward.

Volunteering to attend any all-hands meetings, reading the annual report and getting involved with internal initiatives are great ways to engage with the organisation and its mission, vision and values. You could also put yourself forward for company committees to cultivate relationships with individuals in other departments. Building bridges in this way will also help you to communicate effectively with all functional areas of the business so you can build your soft skill set and speak their language.

If possible, try to attend meetings with your manager. This will provide you with insights into how and why decisions are made further up the corporate ladder, which will then enable you to align your everyday work with the same strategies as the business.

We also recommend trying to find a mentor in your organisation who you respect and admire. If you can find someone in a non-IT-related role, this will help you to further extend your inter-departmental knowledge.

Grow your business knowledge

Look outside of your organisation and be aware of emerging trends in your industry, and identify any gaps in your skill set. By reading industry related news and materials, joining professional associations or industry bodies, enrolling in educational courses and attending networking events can proactively build your broader business knowledge outside of your organisation.

Do you understand the customer journey?

Technology is also enabling better user experiences to manage changing consumer behaviour. Organisations value employees who are in-tune with such changes and can suggest new ways for the business to adapt and further improve customer service and experience.

Make sure you build an understanding of the end user into your work, so you can direct your work to appeal to your target audience and the commercial market.

How to showcase your business acumen

Once you have started to build your commercial and corporate knowledge, demonstrate your new skill set proficiently, either during an interview process (if you decide to apply for external roles) or every day within your company to improve your internal career opportunities. For example, talk about how you worked within your team and collaborated with other non-technical teams to achieve specific business goals.

At Hays Netherlands, a survey on soft skills in IT contracting was conducted recently where many employers said core technical skills are now the minimum requirement for the IT contractors they hire, and that demonstrable soft skills are the real differentiator for the majority of roles.

So, to stand out to potential employers, it is pertinent to bolster and demonstrate your soft skill set. To achieve this, try changing your communication style when dealing with different departments, for example, by toning down any unnecessary technical jargon.

Today’s IT leaders are not boxed in within the technical sphere, but can provide wider business solutions. If you are an IT professional with a genuine desire to improve your business knowledge, you are in a unique position to act as a link between the corporate and technical worlds. As such, you need to gain a broad base of experience inside and outside both your IT department and your organisation to truly futureproof your career in the years ahead.