Career Coach: Tips for boosting your ‘digital IQ’


(Mike Shapiro/For Capital Business)
July 1, 2012

Digital intelligence, the ability to understand and make use of the power of information technology to one’s advantage, is becoming a critical skill for survival and success in today’s economy. Information technology can make or break any type of organization – large or small. That’s why if you want to be a successful manager, you need to develop and continuously sharpen your skills.

The role of IT in the success or failure of an organization is not limited to firms in the private sector or large firms alone. It applies equally to government, nonprofit sectors and smaller organizations.

Generally, most companies are just beginning to figure out how to integrate IT, and they’re hiring CEOs and top executives based on ability to navigate the digital future facing their industries. Barnes & Noble recently promoted its online unit president, William Lynch, to CEO. Other firms have let go top executives for reportedly mismanaging digital strategies.

Like other competencies, digital intelligence is not something that a person is born with. But it is just as important for leading an organization as effective communication skills or creative problem-solving abilities. Improving your digital intelligence can propel you to the next level in your career — all managers need to have a vision for IT. And thankfully, digital intelligence can be learned and improved.

Here are some ways you can sharpen your digital IQ and position yourself for the next leap in your career:

Leave the heavy IT lifting to the experts, then listen to them. Establish and maintain a collaborative culture with your IT specialists. Tap into their expertise to formulate strategy that can tilt the balance of supplier and customer power in your favor and mitigate threats from new and substitute products. This also can position you to excel with a niche market segment or launch a new venture.

Be able to articulate your strategy: IT can be used to create and sustain a competitive advantage for your organization. Zara, Capital One, Harrah’s and Amazon.com are some of the firms that demonstrate how IT and information-based capabilities can help firms create and capture value. To show leadership in your organization, understand and convey the importance of how you should be investing in IT to improve performance and make a case for it.

Chart the course, then empower your team: Leading can mean creating a plan, then staying engaged as you collaborate with others to execute it. Identify key IT decisions relevant to your plan and who will make them. Determine whether to focus on growing revenue or controlling costs. Decide how much to spend, whether the function will be in-house or outsourced and to what extent your firm will use globally dispersed resources.

Stay on top of the trends: Technology is constantly improving so you need to scan new innovations and anticipate their impact on your firm and your industry. This should not be a one-time exercise; these actions should become a part of a manager’s routine because newer technologies are forever emerging.

Take a page from technology and evolve: New technologies often reveal new and more effective ways of doing business — even when doing so forces you out of your comfort zone. Technology and change are synonymous; to avoid making sense of newer technologies on an ongoing basis is to avoid change, and that rarely pays off, as the examples of Kodak and Borders demonstrate.

Don’t lose sight of your overall goals. Managers need to govern IT to align with a firm’s strategy. IT projects need to be managed carefully with particular attention to technology evolution, firm strategy, business processes, business value, and bottom-line benefit, while ensuring buy-in and business sponsorship whenever possible.

Continuously invest in your team: Invest in the education of key professionals on your team and engage in a continuous dialogue among business and IT personnel.

Ultimately, IT-based strategic decision makers should possess a requisite level of digital intelligence and grasp the three pillars — synchronize, govern and manage — of digital business strategy. They should invest in the education of key professionals, followed by continuous dialogue between business and IT personnel. Only then will digital business strategies successfully lead to business value and contribute to organizations’ success in the marketplace.

Sunil Mithas is an associate professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland in the Decision, Operations and Information Technologies Department. He recently authored “Digital Intelligence: What Every Smart Manager Must Have for Success in an Information Age” (Finerplanet).

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