Line of Competence


Technology is changing the way companies do business but the sad reality is that in many organisations the IT team, the supposed technology experts are barely participating in these changes let alone leading them.  On the surface of it this makes no sense at all and many IT professionals are confused if not downright angry about it. They have a good case after all why would you go around the very people that are employed specifically to bring technology expertise to the organisation?

The unfortunate answer is because many IT teams are not perceived to be competent by their peers across the organisation.  Yes I know, given what I do this is a pretty inflammatory statement and cuts to the heart of my key client base, but indulge me for a while.  Industry statistics support this case. On average, organisations report four faults per user per year although some benchmarking services indicate that this is a low conservative estimate (for example see here where the cross industry average is closer to six).  But let’s stick with the low figure of four for now.  What four faults per user per year means is that every user experiences at least 1 outage every 3 months.  In reality it is likely much more than this as many faults affect more than one user.

I reckon this is an appalling level of service.  Would we put up with this in other areas of our lives?  Imagine this was your car and that your car breaks down every 3 months.  What would you be thinking?  If it was me I would be thinking that my car was a piece of #$%^.  Not only that, if I was constantly taking my car to the garage and it kept breaking down I would be wondering if the mechanic had any idea what they were doing.  The bottom line is I would be looking to do something different.  Maybe it would be finding a new mechanic, maybe it would be finding a new car.

And this is what’s happening in our organisations.  They are looking to do something different.  That may be outsourcing (get a new IT mechanic) or it may be doing it ourselves (shadow IT anyone?).  Add to this our appalling project delivery statistics (you know, 1 in 2 projects fail to deliver and the larger and more important a project is the less likely it is to deliver) and frankly we just are not very good at the core of our jobs.  And despite what we may think our non IT peers across the business are not actually totally stupid.  They know that this isn’t very good so they look for alternatives.  

Their search for alternative sets up an interesting dynamic.  Our organisation wants to do something interesting and innovative, it’s 2016 so this innovation is highly dependant on technology to make it work.  Maybe IT find out about project and seek to help the business pursue their innovative agenda.   “The business” is wary of this offer to help, they have been there before and they look for ways to make this innovation happen that don’t involve IT, or if they have to engage with IT  they only engage when they absolutely have to and typically it is an urgent request that needs to be delivered immediately.  

What is our typical response to this?  Too often it is to play the victim and blame the business for going around us and while there actually is some truth in this it is unlikely to be helpful in building a future relationship that works.  

A better approach in my view is to seek to address the issue of our lack of credibility by ensuring we do our core job very well.  We need to be able to demonstrate that we are at least at the “line of competence” on the IT Hierarchy of Needs.  If we don’t do this then we will continue to get sidelined in the digital conversation and wonder why.


So what is it that we need to do in order to be perceived as competent.  Actually let’s restate that.  What do you need to produce in order to be perceived as competent? (because in the end people only care about the outcomes).  There are 4 key outcomes you need to produce.

  1. Robust usable IT services.  The services that you provide need to work as expected and when they are required.  There are very few things worse for a user than needing to use an IT service to complete their job and that service not being available or not working the way they expect it to.
  2. Consistently deliver your projects.  It is difficult to claim we are competent if we do not consistently deliver our projects on time, on budget and in a manner that they are capable of delivering the planned business benefits.
  3. Be easy to engage with.  This includes being easy to engage with for users who need our help and for business leaders who are seeking to use technology and information to improve their team’s performance.    
  4. Be cost effective.  We need to be seen as being good stewards of money especially by the CFO and the CEO.  This includes having “low” cost IT operations, always looking for ways to reduce costs and having a reasonable cost profile on the projects we plan and deliver.

Do these four things well and you will begin to build a reputation of being very good at your job.  As a result of this growing reputation you will begin to be included more often in innovation discussions and then this is where we can begin to add real value to our organisations through the use of IT (and we get to participate in some cool projects and we may even get to play with some cool technology).

So, how do you rate yourself on each of these dimensions of competence and what is on thing you can you do today to begin to improve the outcomes you are producing for your customers?  


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