21 December 2012

So why are you in IT?

The ASL BiSL Foundation’s annual Focus on Demand conference was sandwiched between two tragic events: the untimely death of Remko van der Pols, founding father of the ASL and BiSL frameworks, and the abhorrent massacre in Newtown. Events like these tend to put things into perspective, with the ‘why’ question taking central stage. Traditionally, when asked for the corporate justification for their activities, IT folk have tended to defer to the business. Whether it’s a project or a process, if the business wants it, they’ll do it. They’re order-takers. But every day my conviction is growing that “we’re just taking orders” or “we’re just following the process” isn’t good enough. Charlie Araujo brought this up during the BookStore simulation. Playing the role of the business, and irritated by the incessant questions that were being fired at him, he said “I don’t want questions, I want solutions!”. The questions should be implicit. If not, then you’ve lost the plot.

As a response to the criticism of  enterprises prospering at the expense of their communities and being a major cause of social, environmental and economic problems, Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter came up with the concept of ‘shared value’. He believes that business can escape from an outdated, narrow approach to value creation. They can bring business and society back together if they redefine their purpose as generating economic value in a way that also produces value for society by addressing its challenges. Just as this shared value approach reconnects company success with social progress, I believe that IT can play its part by looking beyond the demand-supply interface and involving itself more in influencing IT decisions for the better. Using IT to benefit society. At the end of his keynote, Chris Dancy used the word ‘humanity’. Why not? Think big.

Yes, of course it’s the enterprise’s responsibility to make these choices. But it’s also your personal choice to work for that enterprise. While the current climate can make this seem like a cheap shot, each of us can take a stand in our own arena, taking our individual circumstances into consideration. 

Five challenging but rewarding steps. 1. Think about your core values. 2. Understand the specifics of your business. 3. Understand the generic opportunities that IT offers. 4. Combine the three. 5. Sell it. Daniel Pink talks about three factors that determine job satisfaction: autonomy, mastery and purpose, and all of these apply to the five steps. For IT, there’s more to ‘purpose’ than achieving high customer satisfaction, independent of whether the customer’s in healthcare or gun running. So why are you in IT?

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