What is IT?

In my previous post “A case of Innovation” I wrote a little bit about what I do and how I do it. Some readers, who do not know me, might have been a little confused about me showing a successful IT project as a rare innovative case history, so I would like to explain one of the reasons.

For people who are not professionals in the vast field of Information Technology, the terminology used to describe it are widely unknown, and unfortunately also for concepts they do not even know that exist. That’s not much of a problem, you may think, but the shocking fact is that also most of the people considered to be “IT professionals” have no idea about what their roles are and how their jobs should be carried out!

So, what is Information Technology about? What are the roles and the skills IT professionals must have to be true “professionals”? The first subject is too vast to speak about in this short post… but I can say here what IT should be in a business environment, which is what I think you are expecting from these articles.

Information Technology, as some programs show, is considered by some as a teachable discipline, in which the procedures of which can be collected and learned in the same way a recipe can be followed by a chef, see for example the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) publications or the Microsoft Operation Framework (MOF) or Microsoft Solution Framework (MSF) blueprints.

Obviously I do not intend to say that there is no need to create and maintain some procedures so as to better understand and administer IT services in an enterprise or in a service provider scenario, nor should the IT group in a company operate as a free artistic circle. I have learned there must be a simple approach so as to obtain the benefits expected by the business or by any activity, which needs to be empowered or supported by new technologies. I have learned that the so-called “IT service management” should be viewed as any other human activity which needs a team of people to carry it out. Thus, each member of the team must have a set of well defined roles and tasks by which successful results can be achieved, and each team member must be coordinated by a manager, who must have a clear vision of the objectives, responsibilities and needs of his group as they apply to the corporate business strategy.

So, taking for granted that we have some good professionals in our IT group, there still must be a clear vision of how it should be structured and managed and here is where the decision makers in a corporation usually get lost.

If you have ever look at the history of Information Technology, you would know that for some time now we have had to split all the matters into a range of “abstract layers” in order to evolve at the speed we have become use to and Information Technology will never be the same, because the skills needed to work at each layer have grown through the development of very complex and specific solutions, thus it’s impossible to have a complete knowledge and competencies in all of the different IT fields.

The need for specialization has not only come about because the scope of the skills has widened, but also because the mandatory skills to succeed in each field have become much different from each other.

That’s the reason why understanding how such a team must be setup is the most important thing that we have to consider during the process of building or restructuring a professional IT staff. Thus specialization and high-technical skills should be the goal in finding the right members of a good IT staff, while a comprehensive vision of both the technologies and the context in which they will be applied is the distinctive responsibility of an IT manager.

Do you believe that Information Technology is like any other human discipline, and thus can be looked at in the same way we look at other professional role? Or do you believe there must be a multi-staged approach to what is actually a multi-layered collection of technologies and techniques which drive the innovations that we hear about more and more often?

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