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Harnessing the full power of your IT department

By Elizabeth Millard

Dolan Media Newswires

In the not-so-distant past, the IT department usually served as blend of fix-it shop and complaint desk. They’ve evolved since then, though many firms still underutilize their IT departments because they see technology in a reactive way.

For example, associates need to be more mobile, so they ask IT to order more tablet computers.

While that’s a valuable strategy, consider how much more effective it would be to bring IT into the discussion proactively, by first asking how technology can drive associate effectiveness in the long-term. Looping IT into strategy discussions could have huge benefits in that case, and in many other instances. Here’s a look at some of the areas where IT could offer greater input:

M&A insight: Don Ball, founding partner of CoCo, a coworking and collaborative space with offices in St. Paul and Minneapolis, predicts that more large companies will be funding and shepherding technology startups with an eye toward acquisitions. “We see a growing convergence of startup and corporate tech,” he says.

That means some of your firm’s clients might be venturing into deals that could use some sharp technology insight. Consider whether your associates could benefit from learning more about a particular innovation from IT.

Productivity issues: In every system, there are sticking points. Maybe it’s taking too long to upload documents to the cloud, or perhaps an online backup system requires extra steps for data retrieval. An IT department is constantly monitoring traffic and data flow, so they can see those bottlenecks. Rather than asking them to increase bandwidth, call a meeting to brainstorm ideas about streamlining all aspects of a technology plan.

Training and communication: For many firms, training is ongoing, which means there should be an evolving training strategy that measures knowledge retention and education effectiveness. Asking IT about technology-based training methods could yield some compelling ideas about better ways to provide training.

Similarly, have a conversation with IT about how associates are communicating with one another, both for training and in general. Internal social media tools can facilitate better learning opportunities and help to increase productivity, said Michael Lomonaco, marketing director at Open Systems Technologies, a provider of managed services, application development, business processes and data center solutions, with offices in Minneapolis.

HR, marketing, client retention, accounting, it goes on and on: Collaborating with IT can provide a greater boost to a company’s whole strategy, said Billy Cripe, CMO of Minneapolis-based Field Nation, provider of online work platforms.

Tapping into the insights of an IT department can lead to better communication and client engagement. When holding high-level strategy meetings with department heads, issue an invitation to IT to join the discussion as well. Even in areas that seem nontechnology-related — think about employee wellness plans, job satisfaction surveys or accounting software upgrades — it’s likely that are tech ideas that could bring a new dimension to every project.

IT is driving the business world, so make sure it’s also a driver in your firm.

Elizabeth Millard writes about technology. Formerly a senior editor at ComputerUser, her work has appeared in Business 2.0, eWeek, Linux Magazine and TechNewsWorld.


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