Beating a Bad Rap

Despite the crash of technology stocks and the demise of dotcoms, IT professionals continue to show up for work as usual.

Between the demise of dotcoms and the over-valuation of technology companies, it seems to me that mainstream IT has acquired a bad reputation. In my mind, there’s far too much generalizing going on these days. All too often, IT professionals are being thrown into the same pot as struggling new-technology vendors and yesterday’s dotcom failures. I’m concerned that this tendency to generalize is doing a disservice to IT pros specifically and the information technology community in general. Organizations feed off momentum, and so to some degree does an IT department; there’s nothing worse than being slowed down by a perception that you had nothing to do with.

I continue to believe that the traditional IT department is and will continue to be the ace in the hole for competitive business advantage. The recent layoffs at technology companies, which serve to protect earnings, and the continued demise of dotcom firms because of poor business practices, shouldn’t reflect on mainstream IT—or its long-term importance to businesses.

Over Memorial Day weekend, I was reminded of how easy it is to forget what it’s really all about. The buzz before and on Memorial Day is about sales and barbeques. We’re so busy shopping and feasting on hamburgers that we often fail to appreciate the purpose of the day itself—thanking those who served our country. Now, I wouldn’t begin to pay tribute to IT professionals as war heroes, but take note of how easy it is to gradually erode the fundamental meaning behind something.

Outside of those relatively few glamorous high-tech companies that came and went in a shower of sparks, IT professionals continue to labor in relative obscurity at everyday companies, putting solid solutions in place every day. Sure, we’re challenged by today’s economic conditions, but IT is hardly in a tailspin. As a matter of fact, even when economic times seemed too good to be true, we weren’t floating on a cloud. We continued doing exactly what was expected of us—execution—and went right on implementing technology solutions that serve business. We’re still focused on the non-glitzy, little-noticed ideas of business processes. We continue building technology solutions that wire people and processes. Most of us haven’t bet the farm to join a company pushing the latest trend; rather, we’ve remained focused on integrating people and technology within our organizations.

If you can, imagine technology solutions on one axis and business requirements on the other. That dot where the two lines intersect is where IT professionals labor—where technology and business come together.

When I check in with my colleagues in IT, here’s what they’re up to:

  • Sharing organizational brain mass. Companies rely on IT to improve their organizational IQs. In tough times, a company’s intellectual property is an even greater asset. Building solutions for a smarter workforce continues to be a top priority. Many of these solutions, now referred to as "knowledge management," are designed to retain and grow expertise within the organization.
  • Building applications that reduce the cost of doing business. You can see this in applications like business process automation, wiring workflow, supply chain management and enterprise resource planning. During challenging times, cost savings can contribute hugely to the bottom line.
  • Improving the enterprise infrastructure. No matter that the economy is slow—we still need speed. Networking, server and application infrastructures are always looking for that next shot of adrenaline. Without big budgets to score the latest and greatest, IT pros continue to work at optimizing current configurations—on fewer dollars.
  • Customer or client relationship management applications. It’s about more than the relationship—it’s about staying one step ahead of customers, anticipating their needs, and preparing and delivering solutions that beat the competition’s offerings.

In the face of layoffs, cutbacks in IT spending, a falling stock market and big question marks concerning formerly stable suppliers like Cisco and Lucent, IT pros continue to perform. Credit and kudos to all!

About the Author

Laura Wonnacott is VP of Business and Technology Development for Aguirre International, and a California State University system instructor.