This article is also published on LinkedIn.
By now it’s an all too common cliché that the IT department does not garner the respect it deserves from its counterpart areas of the business. This perceived respect deficiency can manifest itself in the lack of upfront involvement in business strategy (we’ll call you when it breaks), unreasonable timelines (do it yesterday), rampant budget cuts and layoffs (do more with less) and/or limited technical promotional tracks (promotions are for business areas only).
IT pros tend to believe that if they’re adding value, delivering difficult solutions within reasonable timeframes and providing it all in a cost efficient manner, the recognition and gratitude will follow. Typical IT and knowledge worker responsibilities fall under the high level categories of “keep things running” (you’re doing a great job so we don’t notice) or “attend to our technical emergency” (drop what you’re doing).
It’s fair to say that there is a perception gap between the true value and the perceived value of what IT brings to the table. Anecdotally, there certainly seems to be a disconnect between the perceived lack of difficulty in business asks and the actual difficulty in delivering solutions. This perception gap can occur not only between IT and the “business” but also between the non-technical IT manager and the technical rank and file.
In this era of automation, outsourcing and job instability, there is an element of danger in one’s contributions going unnoticed, underappreciated and/or misunderstood. Within IT, leaders and the rank and file need to overcome their stereotypical introverted nature and do a better job of internally marketing their value to the organization. IT rank and file need to better market their value to their managers, and in turn the IT department collectively needs to better market its value to other areas of the business.
Perception matters, but IT must deliver the goods as well. If the business misperceives the actual work that the IT department provides and equates it to commoditized functions such as “fix the printers” or “print the reports” then morale dips and the IT department can expect to compete with external third parties (vendors, consulting firms, outsourcing outfits) who do a much better job of finding the ear of influential higher–ups and convincing these decision-makers of their value.
I once worked on an extremely complex report automation initiative that required assistance from ETL developers, architects, report developers and business unit team members. The purpose was to gather information from disparate source systems, perform complex ETL on the data then and store it in a data-mart for downstream reporting. Ultimately the project successfully met its objective of automating several reports which in-turn saved the business a week’s worth of manual excel report creations. After phase 1 completion, the thanks I received was genuine gratitude from the business analyst whose job I made easier. The other thanks I received was “where’s phase 2, this shouldn’t be that hard” from the business manager whose technology knowledge was limited to cutting and pasting into excel.
Ideally my team should have better marketed the value and helped the business partner understand the appropriate timeliness (given the extreme complexity) of this win, instead of just being glad to move forward after solving a difficult problem for the business.
I believe Dan Roberts accurately paraphrases the knowledge worker’s stance in his book Marketing IT’s Value.
“’What does marketing have to do with IT? Why do I need to change my image? I’m already a good developer!’ Because marketing is simply not in IT’s comfort zone, they revert to what is more natural for them, which is doing their technical job and leaving the job of marketing to someone else, which reinforces the image that ‘IT is just a bunch of techies.’”
The IT department needs to promote better awareness of its value before the department is shut out of strategic planning meetings, the department budget gets cut, project timelines start to shrink and morale starts to dip. IT workers need to promote the value they bring to the table by touting their wins and remaining up to date in education, training and certifications as necessary. At-will employment works both ways, if the technical staff feels stagnant, undervalued and underappreciated, there is always a better situation around the corner; especially considering the technical skills shortage in today’s marketplace.
“It’s not about hype and empty promises; it’s about creating an awareness of IT’s value. It’s about changing client perceptions by presenting a clear, consistent message about the value of IT. After all, if you don’t market yourself, someone else will, and you might not like the image you end up with ”
 Colisto, Nicholas R.. ( © 2012). The CIO Playbook: Strategies and Best Practices for IT Leaders to Deliver Value.
 Roberts, Dan. ( © 2014). Unleashing the Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together, second edition.