Technology professionals put an incredible amount of time and energy into understanding the how-to of technology. They understand methods. They perfect the process-driven tasks that make their technology implementations optimal.
However, technologists are far less interested and often do not understand the why of technologywhat the technology is for. By that, I don't mean the tasks that a given technology performs. Once again, that is the process.
What technologists overlook is a comprehensive understanding of the business challengethe business model, how it makes money, what products or services it produces, the interrelationship among vendors, departments, clients, and so on. These were the items that were of utmost importance to me and to my boss.
Technology, when understood in this context, is simply a tool to achieve some optimization of an already existing or developing business model. The technology is not the business; in fact, technology is the wrong area of focus for developing good technical solutions.
Before you read any further, I need to make a disclaimer: I am not implying that technical skills are unimportant. In fact, the contrary is true. However, I am convinced that understanding the underlying reasons (business reasons) for technology will lead to far greater technical skill.
A simplistic example of this is the initial exercise that virtually every programmer goes through when exposed to a new language. Programming books universally give a short tutorial that when completed presents a message box to the screen that says, "Hello World!"
Although this exercise exposes the programmer to the language and development interface, it does little to actually develop the programmer's skills in the language. Expertise comes through the application of these skills in solving some business challenge.
However, COP goes beyond a cursory understanding of the business challenge in isolation. To fully understand COP's benefit and impact, you need to have a more complete understanding of business in general, the industry in which you are working, the specific entity for which you work, and the various relationships leading to your solutions.
If you are a technology professional, then an understanding of how you approach technology, an understanding of the role of technology, and adopting strategies that further technology's role in your organization make you much more valuable. Increased personal value ultimately equates to increased responsibility and pay.
The ideas that are discussed in the sections that follow are meant to foster this understanding. They are meant to provide you with tangible ways to change the manner in which you think about business, your company, your role as a technologist, and your understanding of what technology is and its impact on commerce.
The Role of Technology
Understanding why technology exists is a good starting point. After you understand that, I will move into the actual steps of the COP process.
I reduce useful technology into two simple roles, although additional subroles or subsets might exist for each role. In conversations with a number of business owners, managers, and technology professionals, however, the following roles have proven to be effective in categorizing why we use technology.
Role 1: Storage and Retrieval of Information
It's about information. Often, the focus of technology is incorrectly placed on the technology. But the fact is that information is the commodity of value. This is the first role that technology plays.
Technology provides the storage and retrieval of information, specifically, for analysis and decision support.
The rise of segments within IT that are dedicated specifically to information analysis indicates that the industry is aware it must give special attention to this area. Decision support and knowledge management are two such segments, and more seem to be developing daily. These segments function, in some way or another, to advance this first critical role of technology.
Role 2: The Automation of Delivery of Product or Service
The second role that technology plays is one that you can use to greatly enhance your value and propel your career. Automating the delivery of product or service is one of the most important facets of technology.
This can, of course, take the form of automation in the traditional assembly-line type of automation. Robotics is the type of automation that is readily visible in business situations. However, what I term micro automation is also of extreme value within a company. In addition, micro automation is available to technologists early in their careers.
Micro automation is the automation that takes place in the office. It can assume the form of document assembly, reporting, automated information distribution, or any other manual tasks that take place within a company.
In many cases, this type of automation receives a low priority. Company business systems, network upgrades, and big-money integration projects tend to gain the bulk of the attention. However, this type of automation can be put in place quickly, does not require the big project lead times, and has tremendous visibility for personal career growth.
Approaching technology projects with a solid understanding of these roles can help bolster your career. They produce positive exposure for your career and real value within a company.
Keeping your company's business model in clear view as you perform your work is what COP is about. It makes you more aware of the impact that technology has and should have in the organization. Your solutions become much more proactive and more closely aligned with the business as a whole.
COP also helps you adopt and learn new technologies. No longer do you view new technology as something you must learn. Rather, you view new technology in relation to its differences from what you already know well. You effectively reduce what you have to learn.
Adopting a COP approach during your career makes you more valuable because you not only understand the technology but also operations, marketing, distribution, and other critical business functions. You soon separate yourself from those who view technology as the primary focus of their career.
From the standpoint of career growth and possible paths you can take, COP provides a much broader possible spectrum. You can move from straight technologist to system analyst, manager, consultant, or business owner.
This idea has transformed the careers of several technologists whom I have trained and mentored. Their increased confidence in dealing with managementbecause they can speak intelligently about the businesshas provided them with numerous opportunities. Most have been offered significant compensation packages. More importantly, they recognize that they are better able to make a difference in their organization.
This might be the best byproduct of COP: the satisfaction gained from knowing that you are equipped and able to make a positive contribution in your company.