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IT projects require business insights

May 01, 2014

From the Heartbleed bug to the zero-day Internet Explorer vulnerability, information security has repeatedly stolen the spotlight in the news. In addition to security experts working for information technology companies, IT teams within organizations have an important role to play in addressing current threats and developing solutions for the future. Creating a robust defense against accidental and malicious incidents requires more than just technical know-how, however—it also demands industry acumen.

Business understanding and information security 
Tech professionals are increasingly being asked to offer strategic insights and guidance for organizations' technology initiatives. The deeply integrated nature of the modern professional landscape necessitates a familiarity with the industry's operations, objectives and resources in order to develop comprehensive and innovative approaches. Information security is no exception: To develop a fortified defense, IT network administrators and other staff need to have a solid understanding of how their companies run and what their overarching goals involve.

David Cass, chief information security officer (CISO) for publishing firm Elsevier, told Computer Weekly that IT experts must be able to see how new technologies, such as social media and cloud computing, can fit into business processes and support developing new products and services. Information security must be viewed from this integrated perspective to ensure all bases are covered.

"They [information security professionals] must know what is important to the business and what the key business drivers are so that information security can be aligned with those," he told the source. "My information security team is essentially a business-facing structure."

Taking a broader view 
The way IT and industry components must fit together has applications beyond security-specific initiatives, although all technology projects also have a security component. Any IT venture should be aimed at supporting the needs of the organization, whether those focus on improving employee productivity or tailoring customer service with business intelligence. Tech teams need to understand the "strategic direction of the business," Cass said, before they can examine how their tasks fit into the organization's essential goals. 

To gain this perspective, people interested in IT careers may find value in pursuing studies or gaining experience in industry-specific topic areas. Kevin Apperson, CIO of Allegis Group, explained that he brings business-minded IT professionals on board to develop subject matter expertise and facilitate an exchange of ideas that incorporate both technological opportunities and strategic requirements.

Ongoing educational opportunities also bolster IT professionals' ability to comprehend and speak to business strategies. However, tech experts can gain rich insights by working closely with their colleagues in different roles throughout the company and taking an active interest in the enterprise's specialties. Overall, it's critical for IT staff members to communicate with other departments and think about tech projects with the bigger picture in mind.

Becoming a 'digital powerhouse' 
Having a deeper business understanding can help IT teams develop innovative approaches and foresee how they can best be implemented at their organizations. However, even with this empowering insight, many tech leaders face challenges putting their initiatives into motion. Apperson noted that skills or personnel shortages, budget restrictions and tight timelines can prove obstacles to creative tech projects. 

Nonetheless, with careful planning, sufficient IT resources and the insight of business-minded team members, tech experts can help companies approach technology with confidence and ambition. Today's advancements present opportunities for IT services to function as disrupters, changing the way organizations operate and offering possibilities for completely new products. 

In this vein, Baseline Magazine described how companies can strategically approach disruptive technologies to transform themselves into "digital powerhouses." With cloud computing, data analytics, mobile resources and connected devices, organizations have seemingly endless possibilities to integrate various pathways and build stronger connections with their partners and customers, the source added. With some creative and informed reimagining, enterprises can gain a competitive advantage, streamline their operations and impress customers with novel services.

Brad Brown, a senior partner at McKinsey & Co., told the magazine that the key question for today's IT teams is, "How can digital technology fundamentally change the company?" 

That's why industry understanding is so critical for technology initiatives. IT networks are no longer being designed simply to improve on performance and increase efficiency. They're radically changing how companies operate. Since it's no longer business as usual, the IT pros who understand the technical possibilities also need to be involved in imagining how organizations can alter their approaches to benefit from new resources and tools.

"The same technologies that create the enormous opportunities create enormous challenges," said David Nichols, EY America's IT transformation leader, according to Baseline Magazine. "Smarter and more forward CIOs work to understand how to build systems and address challenges in a way that satisfies the user community and eliminates the need for workarounds and policy violations."

A technology plan informed by business understanding and a bird's eye view of the company's operations will help tech teams develop integrated solutions that can transform a business and usher it down a path toward success.

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