It's a brave new world for IT -- for real, this time

The opportunity for IT leadership to influence business has never been bigger -- nor, conversely, has the risk of clinging to the status quo

The most celebrated investor of our time, Warren Buffett, can sling one-liners with eloquence and ease when provoked. My personal favorite is "beware of geeks bearing formulas." I like this for two reasons: First, it's a valid cautionary statement -- and truth is a great quality of any quote. Second, it speaks to the isolation technology leaders have helped create for themselves.

For years, IT organizations have moaned endlessly about getting a seat at the table and participating more in the business. On the flip side, we've all dealt with zealots in the business who swear IT "just doesn't understand" and is constitutionally unable to meet business needs. The clenched-teeth response from IT: Don't they know we've created the platform that underlies everything the business does?

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Unfortunately, there's nothing sexy about keeping the lights on. In today's environment, if the lighting is your top priority, you're likely doing your organization and your career a disservice.

The vast majority of IT executives are good leaders who make all the "necessary" things happen, as dictated by their internal constituency. They forcefully execute a plan someone else develops. The great IT leaders, on the other hand, directly influence the agenda, priorities, and investment decisions of the business. They use the extraordinary leverage that technology represents to help move the business forward.

If you're stuck in the black hole of IT isolation, there has never been a better time to shift your thinking about how IT fits into the schematic of the business or to rally the entire business around a new IT mind-set.

There's a good chance you have a story to tell about the outstanding service you deliver to the business, so shout about it. When you redefine the basic tenets of your value, that changes the IT mind-set and provides a critical rallying point for employees -- shifting the way business perceives what you do in the process.

Be remarkable in how you define the mission. CEOs might appreciate IT organizations that don't present obstacles, but the business -- your peers -- will appreciate an enabling organization that's ready to dig in and partner on a very real level. A great way to start is with an overhaul of the strategy around the integration of systems of record and systems of engagement (we'll be looking at this in detail in my next blog entry). A ton of efficiency can be gained in connecting the two domains, along with streams of actionable data that can make IT the heroes of the business.

Marketing is another great target -- for good reason. Of all the business functions, they are the most likely and will be most active in seeking third-party solutions for analytics, social media, mobile, and cloud. Get ahead of the curve, reach across the aisle, and involve the CMO in defining your mission -- or simply planning the next few major marketing initiatives from an infrastructure perspective. Not only are you engaging one of your biggest customers, you're also stoking the fires of a good relationship through a shared agenda.

You may be reading this thinking these observations are not tenable in your current situation due to politics, budgets, or some other challenge. You might read this and think the real IT mission is still grounded in doing the same things better, faster, or cheaper. That could be true for some, but there's a limit to how much you can optimize anything. It's time to stop pinching pennies and rethink the value IT creates. In every industry, it's clear the business wants more technology -- you are the experts when it comes to what's next and what's possible. The window of opportunity to be that adviser and partner is now, and you might even secure that "seat at the table" in the process.

Blogger's note: This is my first entry in what I hope will be a provocative, valuable resource for the InfoWorld community. For me, this blog is a dialog. I'm honored to participate with you, and I encourage your reactions and feedback. We all work in what is arguably the most challenging function in our respective organizations; we owe it to each other to push the conversation deeper on all the topics we engage, so have at it.

This article, "It's a brave new world for IT -- for real, this time," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read Michael Voellinger's Smart Leader blog each week for insights on managing IT in the modern era. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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