Struggling companies turn to business-savvy IT pros to boost the bottom line

IT workers increasingly need to have business acumen along with technical skills so they can better help struggling companies boost the bottom line.

Economic woes in recent years have spurred companies of all sizes to shake up data center hiring, training, development and other processes to better align IT and business operations -- and boost the bottom line.

Many companies now look for IT employees who can contribute more than code, and they think business acumen is as important as technical expertise, because business-savvy IT workers can help companies cut costs and in some cases even generate revenue, according to IT executives.

For example, BoxTone, a startup provider of mobile device management software and services, asks prospective IT employees during the interview process whether they're interested in learning about the business, said CEO Alan Snyder, adding that those who say they aren't interested don't get hired.

"You must understand the business to drive it forward," Snyder said. "I want somebody that acts and functions as an owner and has a stake in the business and our customers."

Snyder noted that the best new product ideas at a company like BoxTone often come from internal IT workers.

Amsterdam-based electronics giant Philips is in the midst of an effort to better align IT and business as part of a larger plan to streamline the steps needed to bring products and services to market.

The companywide effort requires IT workers who can offer insight into tools beyond traditional enterprise software, said deputy CIO Joe Norton.

"We're all buying from Oracle, from SAP, from Microsoft," he said. "What's the competitive advantage? There is none. The competitive advantage is all about information acquisition."

Obtaining and using that information to develop the right products when markets need them is the future of Philips and its IT unit, Norton said.

"They're going to be business technologists who review how we go to the marketplace," Norton said.

Philips, which has IT operations in more than 600 locations in 60 countries, has taken steps to help its IT staff adjust.

For instance, Norton said, the company has started using webcasts, workshops, newsletters and panel discussions to explain its corporate focus and how departments are interconnected. In addition, Philips is now training all workers in how the Agile software development process, which includes user input from start to finish, will be used at the company.

Chesterfield, Mo.-based healthcare provider Mercy, whose 32 hospitals treat more than 3 million patients annually, completed a search for a business-savvy CIO when it hired Gil Hoffman in October.

Hoffman's responsibilities will include helping to develop IT services to sell to other healthcare companies. "When they recruited me, there was a real interest in trying to get more business knowledge, instead of just technology knowledge, into the IT organization," he said.

Mercy's IT shop is still an internal service organization, but now it's more proactive and looks for ways to use technology to remove work obstacles. "We're much less focused on the technology and more focused on what kinds of problems we are trying to solve," said Hoffman.

Now that tech staffers are aware of what other departments expect from technology, Hoffman said, IT can play a constructive role in the technology purchase process and possibly help them save money.

O'Connor is a reporter for the IDG News Service.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

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This story, "Struggling companies turn to business-savvy IT pros to boost the bottom line" was originally published by Computerworld.

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