Business executives not completely confident in making technology decisions? Transition to new technology taking people a while to catch up? Friction building up between technology/project teams and their stakeholders?

The rhetoric around digital services, collaboration and everything-as-a-service espouses blurring (or obliteration) of the wall between traditional business and technology teams, but I often see the opposite.

On one side are the creative geniuses with skills in marketing, service design, commercialisation and order fulfilment. In the opposite corner are application builders, system integrators, cyber security gurus and technology service managers.

They might work for the same company or be specialist external suppliers, but they may as well come from different planets.

Between the two are the business owners, executives and Boards with responsibility for commercial outcomes, business direction and strategic risk. They simultaneously juggle market and technology disruption with obligations for solvency, security, privacy and sustainability. These are the people who most often call me in to work with their company.

“As individuals, we can embrace new technology at our own pace. As business leaders, the opposite is true.” John Schwarz, Forbes Technology Council

It is not enough to explain what a technology product or service can do, or to make it work as intended. I once had a vendor defend a planned implementation based on “It’s working as it’s designed” …. until I pointed out that I represented the client and that the solution would never go live as it would shut down their business. To their credit they very rapidly investigated the business impact and put in place a revised solution that made the problems go away. I shouldn’t have needed to call it.

Regardless of whether we are providing advice, operational IT services or technology enabled change, it is not enough to understand the technology. We need to proactively find out:

  • What are people trying to do with it and why?
  • What other priorities are they balancing?
  • What will be the impact on their business and technology operating models & how can we help prepare them for that?

When barriers go up, take responsibility for getting over them

Technologists need skills in:

  • Truly customer centric design – it’s about them, not just your product & marketers get that
  • Communication and engagement – these are two-way so listen up
  • Relationship management – with other teams and suppliers, not just the client
  • Managing poor behaviour – you need to call and escalate it not accept it
  • Organisational change – respect experience and inform capability development
  • Commercial and financial management – appreciate it’s about value, not just cost.

If you think these are “soft” skills, think again.

The term “soft skills” is an entrenched term that undermines the impact that they have and excuses “hard core” specialists for not having them. Harden up. Applying them effectively can be challenging, but they realise real and rapid results. They are also difficult to cultivate, particularly if you are very left brain and inclined towards the obsessive-compulsive end of the scale – my favourite people to work with are often described as being “on the spectrum”. It is our job as leaders to put capabilities and mechanisms in place to allow our people to deliver intuitive, client focussed capabilities and services.

Truly exceptional leaders in the technology space possess all of the skills above. They are multi-talented and invest in developing broader capabilities. They are the SOPHisTicated ones in our industry.

This article is based on Susan’s presentation to Adapt Ventures CIO Edge 2019