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Being in IT my whole career (15+ years) I've recently become an IT Manager. I have the tech side down and can relate to technical staff and understand technical issues. I can also logically follow the department business side of things for the most part, things like budgeting, employee issues, etc.

However, in regards to the business side of the house from an organizational perspective, I'd like to get my hands around how the IT department can properly contribute to the organization and not just be a break/fix tech dept.

Doing some of my own research, I'm referring along the line of things like:

  • Business Process Modeling
  • Project Management
  • ITIL
  • Policies and SOPs
  • ISO and other standards
  • Microsoft's MOF
  • http://www.incits.org/

What can be done (training/certifications/reading) to improve an IT Manager's skills to better contribute to the business goals, properly interact with other departments, help the IT dept. be seen as more than a "cost center/overhead"? What sort of "business" skills are companies looking for in their IT leaders within the organization? What business skills/certifications/training are CIO's and other IT leaders acquiring that help them with the business side of the organization?

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    I think this is an interesting question for anyone who starts in a technical path but transitions into management (whether IT or software dev or engineering) – enderland Aug 9 '13 at 16:17
  • Check your local community college; they probably have an Associates in Business Administration or similar, take the non-GenEd classes from that. – Chris S Aug 9 '13 at 16:21
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I see it as two separate areas that are worth getting mastery over - the "what" and the "how".

The What

At any senior level, you need to understand and embrace what the organization is there to do - make money, provide a non-profit benefit, service a governmental dictate - whatever the driving goal is, you need the business savvy to understand it. You also need to understand how the business sees itself, organizes itself and pays for itself. The essence is - before you can cover how you plan to do something, you need a good sense of what you're going to do and why it's important for the business.

I really dislike the inflacted prices of MBAs these days, but the type of knowledge I'm talking about is covered in a good MBA program. I took an MBA-like certification provided by a well known university and it really opened my eyes to this side of the work. I have issues, though, with the crazy costs of brand name schools and I'm not so sure they are worth the money... but the coursework to look into includes:

  • Accounting
  • Economics
  • Marketing
  • Organizational Culture

I'm loathe to say you have to have an MBA to succeed - it sure is a nice credential, but I think you can learn what you need from other sources - books, independent study, workshops, etc.

The How

Everything I recognize from you list is training on how to do what you probably already do. Training will help you to avoid learning from painful experiences, and it may teach you tricks you don't know... but common sense can supplement just about any of the topics.

You can't take everything, and unfortunately, managers need to know a bit about everything.

I'd say the key is to figure out your group's big pain points, and look to training to provide you with strategy and ideas. Don't fix what ain't broken. For example:

  • Project management = the various certification and training may help you both communicate with other parts of your organization that speak project management jargon, and it should help you manage projects to a cost and schedule better than you did before.
  • ITIL - as far as I can tell, great for understanding "services", but I'll admit I'm weak here.
  • Process improvement - CMM, CMMI, Lean 6 Signma - and others are all various ways to figure out how to do what you do better. The various styles of process improvement can work better or worse in different organizations. Sometimes it's industry specific (the DoD business areas often go for CMMI, it helps with winning bids in that arena), sometimes it's cultural. A big thing about most process improvement techniques - it has to be embraced throughout the organization. Don't get into this if you aren't considering a cultural shift, or if it's already part of your culture, learn what's appropriate to the place you work.
  • Security - I can't help it - I have a bias as a security nerd - these days, a big chunk of the money and the risk that goes to IT is security related. With the core value of many companies now instantiated in data, there's a big risk to not addressing security issues sanely. Managers have to able to speak IT security to the business, and IMO it doesn't matter what kind of IT manager you are, you need at least some baseline here. Things like a CISSP can be an overload, but something in that vein is worth it.

Translation

I always liked the explanation that managers exist, in many ways, to translate from the world of the individual contributor to the world of the business. You need to speak the language that your folks speak well enough to understand them and make useful input; you need to understand the way the greater world speaks well enough to explain IT decisions.

So the biggest factor is - what will it take to speak the language you are weakest on? In some companies, that's project management. In others it may be jargon unique to the business or industry.

Certification and other Credentials

It's my belief that it's not so much what certification, as showing a focus on learning. I have yet to see a single certification or degree that was universally awesome. Get a MS in Computer Science and someone will want an MBA. Get an MBA and someone will want an MS. Get a certification provided by Microsoft and the next trend will be Oracle.

A given certificate program is as good as what you get out of it. Learn something useful, figure out how to use it to make the place you work better, talk about that in your next interview and you're in good shape. I have trouble finding one to be more marketable than the next.

I feel like a lot of the references out there are fluffy. Even Accounting and Economics, which have plenty of math, can have some real shades of grey due to the complexity of the world at large. The utmost test is - when you attend, read, or learn anything:

  • do you understand it?
  • can you see a way to use it to solve a problem that you have?
  • does it make sense?

No system is comprehensive, but many will offer ways to solve problems you don't have, or which sound good, but once you try to use them, they make no sense. So - whenever you're listening, reading, skimming, etc - think about how you'd use it and whether it would really make any sense.

Mileage can vary hugely - books I love are boring to others, or seem useless to those who don't have the weak points or problems that I have... as long as it works for you, I wouldn't knock it.

  • While the other answers are also very good, this answer is very well written and explicates what I was looking for. – TheCleaner Aug 15 '13 at 21:14
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Frameworks like ITIL and COBIT can be useful though these generally have to be adopted by the whole IT department to really get any great value as bits and pieces may not necessarily take one that far. Six Sigma would be a non-IT methodology that could be applied to improving an organization that could also be useful in terms of something to study.

A few jobs back, I liked the explanation that IT was supposed to know both the business and technology. We were to provide guidance on how best to leverage technology in making the business run better. While this may seem like a big thing, it is interesting if one wants to picture IT as the backbone of a company which it is in some cases.

There is the question of how efficiently is that IT department being run. What kind of feedback would the other departments give about IT? Is it seen as a friendly, warm place to take problems and get help? Is it known for responding quickly and in a professional manner? There is something to be said for what kind of image are you projecting along with how do you manage areas that are a bit of a blur with marketing like social media that are a mix of technology and non-technology components,e.g. Facebook, Twitter, and other sites can be seen as something that techies use though some places want to leverage that and how does this get integrated with the other systems used to run a company.

Business Administration courses like Chris mentioned are one option though another would be to consider the Entrepreneur route where you are about making changes and being a bit of a maverick. You find what works and get more of that while finding ways to remove what isn't working for a company.


If your IT organization uses an Agile methodology for development, Getting Results may be a useful book for the non-techies to use this same idea in other parts of their life. Change is inevitable and thus it could be useful to have something in non-Geek speak about how to use the methodology of continuous improvement and feedback to keep things going.

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    +1 for "IT is supposed to know both the business and technology". The best thing you can do to improve IT's value in a company is thoroughly understand how the rest of the company works, and how IT helps (or hinders) their functions. – voretaq7 Aug 9 '13 at 16:35
  • Thanks JB King. I've got my LSS Greenbelt and I've taken biz courses, but my concern is the real world experience development. While it'd be nice to say "it'll come over time" I'd like to get some resources/best practices so that I don't have the MBA's here looking at me like I'm just a techie. – TheCleaner Aug 9 '13 at 19:10
  • I'm actually trying to decide between an MBA and an MS-MIS. I will start in the spring on one or the other. Right now I was leaning towards the MS-MIS still just because I don't see myself leaving IT ever. – TheCleaner Aug 9 '13 at 19:58
  • The MS-MIS would be good if you plan on wanting to stay within technical circles and be more of a CTO than a CIO. The MBA would be broader in terms of appeal within general IS, I'd think. – JB King Aug 9 '13 at 20:24
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It's good to have a foundation in business, accounting, management, etc, but take every opportunty you can get to learn from the people in your company. There is a whole list of things you can do:

  1. Read their documentation
  2. Watch presentations to customers, vendors, potential hires
  3. Have formal and informal discussions and Q & A
  4. Learn more about your customers and business partners.
  5. Sit in on non-technical meetings (the horror!) or training sessions.

The non-technical companies that are getting the most out of technology are either doing things very uniquely for internal needs (workflows, approvals, information sharing), but more than likely, making it easier for their customers and vendors to do business with them (client sites, mobile apps, data transfers). Start thinking about how you can present these items to them instead of waiting for them to come up with their own ideas and bring them to you.

If you don't want to be considered a cost center, you're going to have to maneuver your ranking in the company to report to the highest person possible. That's rarely the CFO.

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