There’s a key area in which IT can establish itself not only as a customer-centric organization, but also as a credible and useful business partner — a “vendor of choice”, not a vendor by organizational fiat.
That’s in the organization, use and presentation of information.
IT folk often think of information as something that’s just present in systems. It actually needs to be designed to be effective.
Clients and end customers are both typically as bad at this as anyone else. (I’m sure you remember all your information classes in school, right? Oh, that wasn’t in the curriculum?)
While there’s been organizations that have created Information Management and/or Records Management groups, and staffed them with graduates from an information studies faculty or certificate holders in the field, the curriculum studied there tends to focus on unstructured data and documents rather than on taking data from systems and turning it into information.
Both matter — but since the typical information studies program disdains the information technology field, there’s an opportunity for IT professionals to broaden themselves and serve their enterprises better here.
Here are some of the key things to deliver:
Digital Curation of the Enterprise: We’re used to thinking of backup as something fitted into the schedule. If you needed — for a legal proceeding, a regulatory intervention, or a compliance challenge — to establish what could have been known at a known point in time, can you? (That these checkpoints would also help your business continuity by getting past the “key system” or “we only have budget for…” problems is a much-needed bonus.)
Information Appliances: You can train until you’re blue in the face, but the average person doesn’t have the ability to visualize how to effectively pivot data, combine streams, etc. — so it needs to be built for them. These can then be delivered as reports or pre-coded tools for items like Excel, but they could just as easily be apps on devices. (Here you’ll combine information studies, IT and good statistical/mathematical roots.)
Improving the User Experience: Every shared service you offer, every system delivered from a package, is a suite of compromises. Why has Apple done so well in the past decade? A relentless focus on the user experience (from how a box gets unpacked onward). There is no reason not to provide tailored user experiences, honing front ends to precisely fit the needs of those using the services, all working off your common back ends. Don’t believe me? Do you know anyone using SAP’s workflows and approval mechanisms where managers are forever behind on providing those approvals? Chances are, they’re uncomfortable with the SAP user experience — and their position in the organizations means they don’t have to master it. A custom app handling just the approvals would go a long way to overcoming this.
Information and Records Management applied to Databases: IM and RM people are used to working with enterprise content managers. Database people aren’t used to thinking of the management of records. Bridging this gap is a major opportunity area to serve the enterprise better. This also improves the information studies approach to information architecture by making it a part of solutions architecture, instead of the separate discipline it is now.
Those are four; there are more opportunity areas beyond this. Providing services in these areas will build IT a customer-centric reputation, because you’ll be solving real problems: the same kind Apple does. Remember what Jobs said? “I don’t use market research, because people don’t know they want something new until they experience it.”