Mimi Browning | Seven career-healthy habits for IT professionals

IT Strategy'commentary

Mimi Browning

Information technology professionals are smart and dedicated but not perfect. While not as flip-floppy or garrulous as the presidential candidates, IT professionals have their own special quirks. Two notable ones are socializing too often in geek packs and solving current problems with old IT capabilities. In the spirit of broadening professional vistas, the following 'e-success' habits are offered for consideration.
  • Engage the customer. The gold standard for IT success is not technology brilliance but how well customer needs are satisfied. These needs include business or mission requirements as well as related areas such as policy, budgets, and enterprise strategies. To win and maintain business, practice these fine arts of customer engagement: listen, produce expected results, solicit feedback, establish measurable performance metrics, and express thanks often for your customers' support.
  • English first. Years ago, a federal agency CIO was thrown out of the 'C Suite' with the admonition not to return until he learned to speak English ' that is, non-technical English. To bridge this ever-present gap, you should express IT-centric concepts in mission terms. If you relate an IT concept to business imperatives such as cost reductions, faster program completion, or improved operations, you become a more trusted business partner who just happens to be an IT professional.
  • Enrich professionally. Certifications, training and degrees are critical in today's highly competitive global IT world. Outsourcing and the demand for more credentialed individuals to deliver IT systems and services will continue to affect government and private sector resource decisions. Courses, training and/or degree work will increase your expertise and value and enhance overall IT performance.
  • Educate. For every digital cognoscente, there is the digital caveman who often is an influential customer. Thus, any TLC (technical learning contribution) from an IT professional will be welcomed. IT mentoring, tutorials, successful case studies and easy-to-understand reference documents or charts are all TLC mechanisms for enabling better awareness and buy-in for new IT concepts. Magic comes when you take the time to educate your most important customers.
  • Eat less PowerPoint. Buried in an old file folder are two items I keep side by side: a 78-page PowerPoint presentation on an outmoded IT concept that was given to a public audience 10 years ago, and an eight-page PowerPoint presentation that demonstrated results from a plan to cut IT costs across three related organizations. The keeper PowerPoint is the latter. Content beats IT bling any day of the week. And be green - less paper and bandwidth are ecologically smarter.
  • Encourage new thinking. IT professionals love to solve today's problems with yesterday's IT capabilities. Legacy systems? Try an ERP. Information sharing? Build the world's biggest data warehouse. Changing the prevailing mindset is never easy. Some tips: socialize new technologies with trusted, progressive thinkers and pilot test concepts to introduce change and reduce risks. Most importantly, think beyond IT, since policy, governance and acquisition are also critical success factors.
  • Engage non-traditional colleagues. Make it a routine habit to socialize with colleagues who are outside your usual orbit but who are influential in your programs or professional success. Take a budget analyst or contracting officer to lunch. Find out what your colleagues' challenges are and discuss how you can assist. These sessions are excellent opportunities to engage, educate and influence.

Mimi Browning is president of Browning Consulting Group.

About the Author

Browning is a former Army senior executives and former Booz Allen Hamilton principal who now leads Browning Consultants.

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