Talent development, mentoring take the business and IT alignment cake

Talent development, mentoring take the business and IT alignment cake

Date: Dec 14, 2012

When it comes to business and IT alignment, success is all in the right mix of ingredients -- and that means developing and mentoring skilled, impressionable staff.

Tammy Barr, director of IT at Continental Mills Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of baking mixes based in Seattle, Wash., said that individual talent development is a crucial consideration for IT executives when setting strategies for business and IT alignment.

In this video interview, filmed at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2012 in Orlando, Fla., Barr sat down with SearchCIO-Midmarket.com editor Wendy Schuchart to explain which skill sets are most beneficial to technology leaders looking to align IT with the business. Topping Barr's list of must-haves are individuals committed to improving IT accessibility and developing business knowledge.

Read a transcript from the interview below, and watch the video to learn more about how leaders like Barr are developing talents on an individual level to improve business and IT alignment on a corporate level.

Tammy, a lot of CIOs and IT directors struggle with how to align IT with the business. What are some things you're doing currently to solve that dilemma?

Tammy Barr: We're trying to do some smaller things:

Really make ourselves more accessible and get folks in the rest of the business comfortable with the people in the IT department. See them not just as techie, geeky-type people, but resources that really understand technology, understand the business, and understand how to bring the tools that we know in technology to the business to help further their initiatives; to think of things that they may not have thought of before to really move things forward.

One of the things we're doing is working on what we call a "technology fair": getting the folks in the department to take ownership of that. Learn some new tools, even things that we may not have been using before. Bring them in, play with them. Figure out how they might benefit the business. Then, during this day with our technology fair, show off those skills to the rest of the business.

That both gets them to be more visible, especially people who do, maybe, server technology, or help desk, or some of the things that don't get as visible otherwise. Really [it] helps the business see we know more than just tools.

How did you get started in IT?

Barr: I actually started out with more of a business background in the manufacturing world. I started out as a manufacturing support person, and I really liked the technology part of the business. I decided I wanted to go in that direction. I did have some technical background in college, but it wasn't my primary focus.

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I looked at some of the departments that I really enjoyed. One of them was the systems and technology department. I eventually moved in that direction. When the opportunity at a smaller manufacturing company came up, it was a good opportunity to use both the combination of manufacturing and technical skills to help further an area in another business that I haven't been as familiar with [and that] I really enjoyed, so I could make a contribution there. That was really exciting. It's been long time now, but I think having that combination of both the business background and a technical background has been really valuable.

What one skill would you say is a key to success for CIOs or IT directors?

If there is only one, I think a big one is having that business knowledge, business credibility that you can back up with technical knowledge, and being able to communicate that effectively. Really interface with the different departments in the company and build those relationships. Earn the trust that you not only understand technology, but you understand their business problems, and you can help them solve them with the right tools, and really partner with them.

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