IT is in an untenable position within the enterprise: It's vital to the business, yet its value is questioned by non-IT counterparts. IT is often lambasted as a "cost center" and asked to "do more with less." In addition, IT professionals are typecast as geeks who are more interested in command and control than in serving customers. These perceptions can limit the role of IT professionals within the organization.
This status quo won't change itself. It's up to IT to break through walls of misperception and dispel the myths that prevent IT from earning a greater stake in the decisions that drive the organization.
Here's my prescription for changing minds:
1. Know thyself. The first step to being a politely assertive professional is to adopt a succinct point of view about the job you do and how you specifically fit into the organization. You have to know yourself because otherwise you risk letting other people defining you.
Be able to express this point of view to others. Think of it as an elevator pitch that allows you to quickly and crisply articulate what you do to move the organization forward. Every IT practitioner needs to be able to do this, not only the CIO.
2. Tell your story. Many technical or "hard-skilled" people believe that great work speaks for itself.
While this principle is laudable, it is honored largely in the breach. Instead, it's more effective to articulate your work and how it benefits the company. So tell your story (but keep it honest).
Elements of this story should include not only information on what you do from a technical perspective but how it connects to tangible business outcomes. The hoary notion that IT is best when "silent" has to be sent to the dustbin.
[The recent VMworld conference illustrated a growing rift between cloud-focused startups and traditional IT groups that cling to data centers. Find out if there's room for middle ground in "The IT Generation Gap."]
3. Win others with the strength of ideas. IT professionals have a great deal to offer the company, not only in technology but organizational culture and business. To get real credence in the company, you have to be seen as a thought-leader whose ideas are innovative and progressive. Ideas are the engine of all economic development, and many great ones emanate from IT. To disseminate these ideas, it is important to have an ongoing dialog with people from other parts of the organization and to enter those dialogues not as "just an IT pro" but as a core member of the business.
4. Change the discussion. IT pros may be questioned about the value of IT itself. For instance, a common question asked of IT is some variant of "Does IT matter?" If you start your answer with "IT matters because..." then you justify the premises of the question. Instead, you have to explain to the questioner why the question itself is dismissive of an entire swath of professionals.
While this primer is incomplete, it's a good start to help IT claim its position in the forefront of any organization. IT should be proud of its contributions to the business, but it can't be silent about them. It's time to tell your story.
[If you're looking for help on getting IT a bigger seat at the business table, Interop New York can help with its "Business of IT" conference track, including the session "The CIO and CMO--Adversaries No More."]