Who does your business trust? Do your users and managers trust you to use technology to solve business problems? Or do they believe that your IT shop can't do the job, and that going outside or offshore is the only way to get real results?
When IT is a trusted problem-solver, the outlook for people who work in corporate IT departments is bright. But if you don't have that problem-solving credibility, you're in trouble -- no matter how good things are looking these days for IT.
And things are looking pretty good right now. Layoffs are down. Bonuses are up. For the moment, we're needed.
But don't get complacent. After all, the problems out there aren't getting any easier.
Take security, for example -- that's an area where the challenges have far outstripped our standard approaches. Laptops and desktop PCs are being lost or stolen at a frightening pace. Thieves break into corporate networks to steal customer information almost routinely.
One solution is to encrypt that data, so even if it's stolen it will be useless to a thief. But how do you handle the crypto keys? Users can't be trusted to keep track of them; they can't remember their own passwords, as every help desk staffer knows too well. Putting an outsourcer in charge of them means an outside company has complete control of your company's lifeblood. The logical place to keep those keys is in your IT shop.
Can you solve that problem? And -- more important -- do your CEO, your managers and your users believe you can?
Or what about those pesky government regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley? The heart of Sarb-Ox is tracking and controlling access to financial data. Becoming Sarbanes-Oxley-compliant is just the first step; once that's done, everything going forward has to meet those tighter information-control requirements too.
Farming that work out to experts may make sense, but the ultimate responsibility for obeying the law falls to your top management. Do they trust you to make sure the job was done right, and that financial information remains sound and secure?
If they don't, you're toast. Maybe not today, but soon. Businesses face too many rubber-meets-the-road problems right now to waste time and money on IT shops that can't be trusted to create solutions.
Look, it's a cliche nowadays that tech skills are on the way out in corporate IT, to be supplanted by business skills. But that misses the point. To earn users' and management's trust, you need both tech savvy and business savvy.
And those are just the prerequisites. You earn that trust by getting results. And you get results by solving problems -- and solving them fast, in ways that directly address exactly what your business needs.
Management theory is fine, but an MBA is no replacement for a clear grasp of what these users in this department do, and how IT can help them do it better, faster or cheaper.
Technical knowledge is essential -- you can't build or buy systems without it, can't evaluate whether outsourcers are doing what they're supposed to, can't gauge whether new technology is ready for prime time. But shuffling the same old bits, crossing the same old wires, won't solve the new problems your business faces.
That's where your challenge lies. You have the knowledge, the experience and the insider status to solve problems for your enterprise that no one else can -- technical problems and business problems.
Deliver the goods, prove your value, and you'll build the credibility that will make users and management count on you.
And instead of having to worry about which way the wind is blowing this year -- for layoffs, bonuses, outsourcing and offshoring -- you'll be the problem-solver your business can trust.