One of the buzzword phrases used today in information technology, and throughout business in general, is ďcore competencies.Ē Everywhere you look, from trade shows, to industry publications, to your last meeting, and the obligatory PowerPoint presentation, the IT sector is swamped with the need to master our core competencies.
However, when you strip away all of the hype and jargon-filled vernacular, whatís left is a fundamental truth: Make sure you can do what youíre paid to do.
In IT, like many other functions required of any successful organization, there are tasks that need to be done and have to be done, and tasks that never need to be done. Itís the professional equivalent of needs versus wants. Many in IT are so-called early adapters and Iíve seen the tendency to convert wants to needs. In other words, requirements and necessities are often confused and conflated with wants and desires. With this lack of clarity comes the groundwork for a failed endeavor, disappointing project, or corporate collapse.
While working on cool projects is cool, the fact of the matter is that businesses run on systems that arenít nearly leading-edge technologies. These include a stable of systems including accounts receivable, accounts payable, general ledger, HR, email, customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning, and whatever other acronyms come to mind. It stands to reason that the heart and soul of a profit-oriented organization revolves around systems that are based on older concepts. Profit, after all, is not a new idea.
For example, the concepts behind double-entry bookkeeping havenít changed much since Franciscan friar Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli developed the concept and published it in 1494, only two years after Christopher Columbus discovered modern-day Hispanola. Lest you think Iím picking on our bean-counter friends, the same holds true for much of what IT does.
In fact, before IT was IT, it was usually called something like Automated Data Processing. Put simply, it was seen as nothing more than the ability to automate existing processes. For years, IT fell under auspices of the finance or accounting department rather than a dedicated IT shop.
This is important because unless IT has a complete mastery of the more mundane systems that account for the money collected from invoices, that keep the supply chains running, and that pay staff and bills in a timely way, there is no business. If there is no business, there is no need for IT, or any anything else, for that matter.
The nexus between ITís demonstrated mastery of the aforementioned systems and the support and opportunities required to spend corporate resources on more leading- or bleeding-edge technology is something that cannot be overstated. While IT professionals donít see AP as a bellwether of innovative technologies, it is a key system that has to work each time, every time. Only after the requisite technological infrastructure upon which the organizationís processes rest is delivered in a cost-effective and efficient manner will most organizations entertain the notion of doing something that is even remotely cool in an IT sense.
Much like a child learning to walk, IT has to show that it can stand on its own, take unaided steps at will, and deal with obstacles in its path -- usually financial and technical -- before it is ever allowed to run. Too many IT organizations fail to understand the connection between reliably and consistently delivering required systems as a necessary precursor to getting the support and opportunity to bring more leading-edge technology into the company.
Mastering the companyís core competencies is essential if IT is going to be allowed to provide transformative technologies instead of just updating and maintaining automated existing processes. Only when transformative processes come alive can an organization flourish in a sea of constantly changing challenges and opportunities.
In short, if your IT shop ever wants to stretch its technology wings and explore some truly amazing technologies emerging around the globe, make sure that it can handle the day-to-day activities of the organization without breaking a sweat. The companyís fundamental requirements have to be ITís core competencies.