IT shops are no longer in the technology game of creating big enterprise applications and even operating environments, today it is all about "face-time". Technology is easy to buy; instead customers want face-to-face relationships so that IT professionals are in touch with the business problems they are responsible for solving.
With the rise in offshore outsourcing, IT professionals who ask themselves how much of their work can be shipped off to India and done at a lower cost realise their job is obsolete without face-time.
It's a mantra IT support managers like David von Blanckensee of Adelaide-based IT services company Online Resources follow. Personal contact is critical to helping him deliver outcomes aligned with business goals.
"As part of a global services company that deals with IT managers and business managers on four continents . . . face-time is the essential ingredient to maintaining successful support relationships," he says.
"Once trust is established, addressing the actual technology issues remotely is straightforward."
Gavin Dietz, IT director of Sydney-based online grocer Shopfast, regards face-time as imperative in any IT professional's job as it determines how well you will plan for and meet the information needs of the entire business. "Face-time in IT is important across all facets of the business -- not just senior and middle management -- but at any level where people interact with technology, in order to understand where future resources should be directed and how additional efficiencies can be achieved, implemented or realised," he says.
Meanwhile, what the business needs isn't even the technical smarts to get the technologies working together. Specialist consultants can get an SAP installation going faster than internal IT people can, or bring new multitier middleware online with fewer problems than you'd have trying to dope it out with in-house talent.
What the business needs is the ability to do business better, faster and more effectively. And what the business needs from IT is to make sure technology makes the business better, faster and more effective.
So face-time is bound to be a telltale marker.
Dietz says he takes every opportunity to interact face-to-face with as many different parts of the business as possible. In order to ensure that IT developments continue getting buy-in by end users, IT managers must convince them that "IT is making their job easier", he says.
Communicating with internal clients face-to-face "is one of the few ways to know how your IT systems are being used in everyday situations, and what improvements you can do to make [clients'] life easier".
It's grim but true: if corporate IT shops think IT is all about making technology, they can't compete. Huge homegrown Cobol systems couldn't compete with SAP and PeopleSoft. And teams of heads-down, cubicle-bound programmers working on big, well-specified applications can't compete with teams in India and Russia, where discipline is higher and the pay is much lower.
But the offshorers can't do face-time. And they can't really know our business and put IT fully into its service. And those are the things the organisations IT serves need from their IT departments today.
(Helen Han contributed to this report.)