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IT leaders aren't all coming from tech

Sharon Florentine | Sept. 25, 2014
Today's IT leadership looks a lot different than in years past. Many are climbing the ladder from marketing, sales and other departments.

Having both technology and sales and marketing experience can help bridge that gap and ensure any technology purchases are beneficial for all aspects of the business —  technology and beyond, he says.

A Big-Picture View

Erika Van Noort, director of consulting at Softchoice, says employees with horizontal experience offer the big-picture view needed to lead a high functioning IT department and a thriving business.

"Our theory is that within leadership roles, folks have to understand the entire business so they can better serve customers — both external and the internal customers, users, that IT supports," Van Noort says. "Our external clients are facing skills shortages not with technology and certifications, but with business skills and seeing the larger business strategy," she says.

"Instead of focusing so much on speeds, feeds, technical specifications, what we advise our clients is to treat their internal users as customers. We want them to ask, 'What does success look like? What does successful business usage look like?' and that takes a cross-functional, multifaceted approach," Van Noort says.

With a traditional approach, Van Noort says, most technology deployments are done from the top down and result in employees complaining afterward that the systems and solutions aren't helping them do their jobs. Instead, she advises, get buy-in from customers and employees first, and then determine from there which technology will best fit those needs.

Van Noort says businesses are beginning to understand this shift in focus, and are increasingly demanding business analysts and DevOps — many of whom have experience similar to Francis Li's — to better explain business needs and strategies as well as explain how those can be addressed using technology.

An Inclusive Approach

"It's definitely more inclusive this way; instead of your people saying, 'I wish I'd had input into this decision, because I never would have done it this way.' If instead they understand how the technology can help them, understand what a successful adoption looks like, they'll be much better positioned to do their jobs and your business will be more productive," she says.

And, Li says, his varied experience has helped him grow in his personal life, as well as in business, as he's had to reinvent himself so many times to grasp the intricacies of each new role he assumed.

"Cross-functional development has really affected me in a personal way, too," he says. "I'm a better listener; I'm much more empathetic. I'm humble enough to know that there are instances where I'm not the subject matter expert, I am much more in tune with people, their concerns, their priorities," Li says. "And that's made me a much better leader through all these different roles and positions."


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