June 1, 1998
The Internet makes business strategy integral to IT jobs
IT managers around the world will experience a radical transformation of their roles over the next few years, spurred by the growth of Internet commerce and the emergence of a "digital economy."
As companies become increasingly dependent on Internet technologies, they will need to involve their technology experts in business decisions. As a result, IT managers will be in a position to shape their companies' strategies like never before.
Those who don't seize this opportunity may find their responsibilities relegated to maintenance and customer support, with the strategic decisions made by executives and IT consultants.
It's just another step in the evolution of the IT industry, according
to Larry Downes, co-author, with Chunka Mui, of the recently released
book Unleashing the Killer App. (For InfoWorld's review, see
"The Killer App will give your business a wake-up call.")
I recently talked with Downes over breakfast in San Francisco. He pointed out that in the earliest days of IT, several decades ago, computer technology was pretty much confined to the back office. It was through the accounting and finance departments that IT entered the corporate world, via number-crunching mainframes.
With the onset of PCs, IT moved into an operational role -- providing the tools for companies' day-to-day workings. Employees use PCs to crunch numbers, but also to prepare presentations, write letters, organize their schedules, and handle a thousand other mundane tasks. The hardware, software, and services an IT department provides support these activities.
With the advent of Internet commerce, Downes thinks IT will be increasingly involved in revenue generation and core business functions. Internet technologies will become part of companies' production and distribution infrastructures, just like assembly lines, delivery trucks, and retail stores.
The flip side of the coin, of course, is that top executives will be more and more involved in IT decisions.
Getting down to business
To roll with these changes, IT managers will need to learn about business, not just technology. They must be able to develop solutions in partnership with executive management, as well as marketing, sales, and customer service departments. And they will need to attune themselves to the needs of the company's customers, who will themselves be using the Web-based applications and services produced by the IT department.
So how do you get ready for the coming changes? In the near term, as I-commerce revenues grow, Internet development projects at your company will attract a lot of attention. Use them to open up new markets or create new ways of doing business online. And don't give up all control of these projects to nontechnical management or outside consultants.
Second, educate yourself about the potential of I-commerce. One way you can do that is by reading Downes' and Mui's book. Although the authors' enthusiasm and optimism is sometimes extreme, the book drives home a number of fundamental concepts about the Internet economy and how it will disrupt value chains, supply chains, and traditional ways of doing business.
Finally, keep an eye on companies that are making money from I-commerce. Successful Web-commerce sites may not be directly relevant to your own company, but their business models hold valuable lessons for other I-commerce pioneers.
Dylan Tweney edits InfoWorld's intranet and I-commerce product reviews online and in print. He welcomes your comments at email@example.com.
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