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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the July 24, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Aligning Technology With Management
It was supposed to be the savior, but technology is
now playing the goat.
explains why tech’s image is in the toilet. "There was the dot-com
debacle," she says. "And even before that, there was Y2K.
A lot of money was spent. There was a lot of confusion." Then
the economy tanked. "Most prudent business people," says Pauker,
"said `I spent a whole lot of money on Y2K and the Internet and
neither panned out. I’m not going to be fooled three times.’"
Tech has been put into the corner. Bad tech. Ironically, though, Pauker
says that technology is more important than ever. Businesses are reaping
only 50 percent — or less — of the productivity gains technology
can deliver. The promise is falling short, in her view, because of
poor communication between IT professionals and business people. She
offers suggestions for bridging the gap when she speaks on "Corporate
Strategy and the IT Professional: Greater Expectations" on Thursday,
August 1, at 10 a.m. at a meeting of the New Jersey Technology Council
at the Echo Lake Country Club in Westfield. Other speakers include
Pauker holds a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New
York at Binghamton and an MBA from the New York Institute of Technology.
She founded her company, which originally was called Anne Pauker Consulting,
in 1995. It specializes in consulting on business/technology alignment.
This month, she is merging her company with Cognetics, a company owned
Cognetics, a 25-person company that works to ensure that software
is user friendly, has offices at 51 Everett Drive in Princeton Junction.
Pauker explains that tech is in trouble, at least in part, because
a generation of executives that rose in the ranks when a mouse resided
behind the company dumpster and not on their desks made buying decisions
out of fear. They didn’t understand technology, but Y2K came along
and they were told they would be out of business if they did not replace
— or substantially upgrade — all of their computer systems.
Then they were told they would be out of business if they did not
get onto the Internet.
Most decision makers went along and shelled out tens of millions of
dollars to keep up with the tech bandwagon. The problem was that they
often did not have even a basic understanding of what they were buying.
"For example," says Pauker, "a lot of people wanted a
website, but they had no idea of the difference between a $30,000
website, a $300,000 website, and a $3 million website. They didn’t
know the elements that go into it." They didn’t understand the
implications of building one in-house or using an applications service
provider. "They didn’t know on whose server it should rest,"
she continues, "or even what a server is."
In many companies, the thinking was that it was enough to hire young
technologists and to leave technology to them. Now, all many executives
know is that they have spent a whole lot of money on technology, and
they don’t know what they have gotten for the investment. When they
come out of shock, these executives need to learn more about technology,
Pauker says. It is no longer enough to be able to work in Microsoft
Word or to be comfortable surfing the ‘Net. It is necessary to know
what Word and the Internet can do for the company. It is necessary
to understand the implications of investments in technology and what
they will do for the business.
The time has come for the barriers between business people and IT
people to come down. The two are different breeds. "Business people
are action oriented," says Pauker. "They are tactical. They
want the three bullet points." Technologists, she finds, are more
abstract in their thinking, more detail oriented, and more precise.
Business people need to get savvy about technology, and technology
people need to get savvy about business.
For both, this mandate is a matter of survival, but it is the IT people
who are feeling the fallout of tech disillusionment the most keenly.
Two years ago competition for their services was fierce. Salaries
went through the roof and into the stratosphere. Now many IT professionals
are out of work. Catching the next wave will require new skills. "The
things that made them successful in the past won’t in the future,"
says Pauker. Her advice on retooling includes:
IT professionals need to understand that while they think of a computer
when they hear the word "client," to the business people with
whom they speak "client" as a human being or an organization.
Use too much tech jargon and a business person will glaze over, and
then tune out.
and take great pride in their work. "They’re concerned about the
elegance, the way they write the programs," she says. But that
should be a given. It is now necessary to think beyond the design
of the program and to look at the client’s needs. "It is necessary
to focus on the customer and the users," says Pauker. "IT
people have to have their interests in mind from the start."
As an example, she talks about software she and Kreitzberg saw demonstrated
at a recent trade show. It was HR software designed to sort job candidates.
The program led HR professionals through a number of steps intended
to separate good candidates from weak ones. At the end of the program
the best candidates were pulled from the group, and, says Pauker in
horror, "put into a shopping cart!"
A programmer would see little wrong with this approach. It incorporates
a mechanism found in many programs where buying decisions are involved,
and choosing a job candidate is, after all, a buying decision at heart.
It was undoubtedly easier and much less expensive to have the program
end with a shopping cart than it would have been to use a novel packaging
approach. But, says Pauker, most HR professionals, the very people
who would make a decision on whether to buy the software, would be
seriously turned off by a program that stuffed their job candidates
into a shopping cart.
a wealth of knowledge and expertise," says Pauker, "but some
of them have the attitude `I know it, trust me.’" This is no longer
good enough. Successful IT professionals are going to have to get
a whole lot better at selling their solutions to business people who
are disillusioned about the promise of technology.
As a whole, says Pauker, IT professionals pride themselves on keeping
abreast of their fast-changing field. Still, she says, there is always
the danger of getting pigeonholed, and given the pace of change, this
could be a career death sentence.
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