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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. Anne Pauker, president of Alignment Advantage,

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

Kurt Olender of Reed Smith; Mahesh Yadav of Optima Global

Solutions; and Tony Zecca of the Cohn Consulting Group. Call

856-787-9700.

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

by Charlie Kreitzberg, her business collaborator and husband.

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:

Communicate. Technology has a language all its own, but

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.

Focus outward. IT professionals work very hard, says Pauker,

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.

Develop better influencing skills. "IT people have

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.

Stay savvy. This last is not an issue for many technologists.

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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