IT Management: The dignity of IT

Reclaiming the dignity of the IT profession is essential to maintaining a culture of innovation and productivity.

Romi Mahajan

Dignity is the fundamental, universal concept at the root of all great work. When work allows for dignity to be nurtured, that work is enjoyable and rewarding. If work is enjoyable, the person doing that work will be flexible, innovative and productive. In the absence of this nurturing, work becomes simply a necessity. Those operating under these circumstances are uninspired, rigid and unproductive.

The world of IT is not unlike any other profession when it comes to basic values like respect and dignity. Lately, though, there has been a fundamental assault on the dignity of the IT profession. It’s time for IT to reclaim its dignity, for the betterment of the profession and for the corporate world as a whole.

For the past 10 years, IT professionals have been on the firing line. This assault comes from many directions. There are the never-ending efforts to do more with less; to make money, not spend it; heed service level agreements (SLAs) but make time to learn and grow; and defend your existence each and every day. This is what is constantly demanded of IT professionals.

Meanwhile, the wild growth in types of devices, channels and platforms puts even the best IT professionals to the test. By my estimation, IT pros have risen to the occasion—in fact, they’ve often led the way. Even a cursory glance at the rhetoric of the IT industry, though, suggests that opinion-makers think otherwise.

At the most basic level, there’s the usual tension between different groups within the corporation. Sales and marketing folks don’t often get along, nor do developers and IT professionals. No one particularly enjoys working with finance or legal. Though stemming from misperceptions, these prejudices exist in all corporations. That doesn’t seem to be the culprit here.

The real culprit seems to be the set of myths that non-IT people have shrouded around the IT department. According to non-IT people, IT professionals are:

  • Part of a separate culture that celebrates “geekiness” and introversion
  • Disconnected from business
  • Ivory tower types who don’t understand customers
  • Gatekeepers who like to use command and control to say “no”

Furthermore, non-IT people have the sense that IT is there to:

  • Serve, serve, serve
  • Be ready at a minute’s notice, as well as universally knowledgeable
  • Attend to the needs and whims of every user

When you add all this up, you can see how one is led to believe that IT professionals are essentially an unvariegated group of automatons who play no special role in the organization. Put in the language of culture and sociology, IT professionals—in the view of others—don’t do a dignified job. This is a dangerous idea that should be forever relegated to the dustbin.

Reaffirming dignity

Contrary to the popular notions I’ve noted here, IT professionals are a dynamic breed. They consistently demonstrate that they’re among the most innovative departments of any company. Furthermore, they drive the business forward. Dated corporate mythology notwithstanding, this combination of factors makes for a very dignified place within the corporate structure.

Within this more accurate framework, the IT department is characterized by:

  • Constant innovation: IT is at the forefront of technological change and deals with customers (often internal customers) more than any other group outside of sales. IT professionals also embrace the DIY mindset. They tinker and create on a daily basis.
  • Deep appreciation for accountability: IT is one of the only departments with a clear process for servicing its customers. Accountability in IT is measurable and, indeed, frequently measured. This separates IT from the pack in a fundamental way.
  • A relentless dedication to keeping business running: IT and business have become a singularity. One would be hard-pressed to find a company of any appreciable size or success in which IT is not the backbone of productivity.

Which other part of the company can honestly describe itself in these terms? That should certainly add up to a recipe for a dignified stature.

Besides the fundamental role IT plays in the smooth operation of business, there is the myth of the cultural divide between IT and business. This is a relic of times long past when many people conducted their jobs unaided by technology. In those days, technologists were separated from the rest of the company, usually sequestered in research and development. As such, they were removed by design from the day-to-day exigencies of running the business.

Fast-forward into the business world of 2013, and you’ll see that divide no longer exists. IT professionals power the systems we use to run our components of the business. IT professionals make business decisions every day. IT professionals are at the forefront of fundamental decisions regarding the very infrastructure on which the business depends to create goods and services and to connect with partners and customers. The idea that they’re sequestered from reality is misplaced and deleterious.

For far too long, IT has been put on the fringes of this system of mutual respect. It’s time that the IT profession is given the credence that is its due. Dignity and IT go hand in hand, and IT professionals should hold their heads high. If you’re reading this and you aren’t an IT professional, remember to accord them the same dignity you’d expect for yourself and from others.

Romi Mahajan

Romi Mahajan is president of KKM Group. Prior to joining KKM, Mahajan was chief marketing officer of Ascentium Corp. A well-known speaker on the technology and media circuit, he serves on a variety of advisory boards and speaks at more than a dozen industry events per year.