Save a seat for IT at your strategic planning table

Tobin Conley | 01.16.15
Topics: Association Management - Leadership, CIO - Digital Transformation - IT Maturity

SaaS apps and cloud hosting are changing the roles of today’s IT leaders. Now, those CIOs and IT directors are (or should be) focused less on putting out fires and managing systems, and more on helping staff find technology solutions to business problems. This shift in IT’s role means they now have the opportunity to spend more time facilitating – and even driving – change for their organizations.

You don't have to have “CIO” in your title to impact change. IT staff can still act like CIOs. And they should.

An organization’s IT leaders are in a unique position to be internal advisors to fellow association staff. They can educate staff and leadership on how technology can help them achieve objectives and improve operations. And, they can help staff take advantage of the data and technology they have (or could have in the future).

However, since this is a new role for most IT staff, they may get some push-back from their colleagues. These days, since everyone’s aconsumer of technology, many people also think they’re experts on technology. Granted, association staff now know more about technology than they ever did in the past, but that knowledge is usually limited to the specific technology they use.

New role for IT: internal technology consultant

It’s the business of IT staff to know what kinds of tools are available to help their organization fulfill its mission and to help their colleagues select and implement those tools. Ideally, they find out how other organizations are using technology to operate efficiently and achieve goals. IT staff are in-house futurists – figuring out how new technologies will affect their association’s industry or profession, members, customers of members, stakeholders, and the association itself.

New role for IT: moving beyond the help desk and server room

Traditionally, the IT department was charged only with keeping the servers, network, and desktops running. Like an electric company keeping the lights on, IT ran technology like a utility. No one else in the office messed with technology for fear of causing a meltdown.


Now, every department increasingly uses technology to do their work. IT staff no longer hangs out in the server room. They’re all over the building helping the entire organization use technology to work more efficiently and achieve their objectives. Because of this new role, they naturally have a more holistic view of the organization and its technology usage and needs. 

Despite this new perspective, in many organizations, IT is still seen as the fix-the-printer or find-the-file department. IT must continue to support staff operationally, yet their potential isn’t being utilized if they’re not given the opportunity to contribute on a strategic level too. Sometimes it’s senior staff who pigeon-holes IT to the help desk role, but often it’s IT staff themselves who resist becoming more strategic. 

New role for IT: strategic planner

To help their organization achieve its goals most effectively, every IT department, even a “department of one,” must develop a technology plan. A technology plan is based on the organization’s strategic plan as well as the short- and long-term business goals of the organization. Careful alignment between the technology plan and the strategic plan helps to establish buy-in around the building and decreases the likelihood of resistance to any changes in systems and processes.

Before developing a technology plan, IT staff must first understand their organization’s goals and direction. Discussions with staff leadership and colleagues about organizational and departmental objectives will help IT staff identify technology priorities. Even if the organization doesn’t have an official strategic plan, these conversations with staff about the organization’s mission and goals will help IT staff formulate a technology plan that moves the organization forward.  

New role for IT: technology ambassador

IT staff no longer has the luxury of working most of their day in solitude. They must focus on building relationships with and educating those who make decisions about technology investments. They must help staff and volunteer leaders understand how technology can make it possible for the organization to achieve strategic goals in the coming year – and beyond. It’s only when furnished with this understanding that decision-makers will invest in the appropriate network infrastructure and technology systems.

This “technology ambassador” role is essential to organizational success. IT can no longer be a spectator of progress. Instead, IT must be a catalyst of progress. This new role requires IT staff to be in the communication loop at the senior level – participating in board meetings and strategic planning sessions.

However, having a seat at the strategic planning table must be earned.

First, IT staff must start seeing themselves as positive change agents, not merely machine custodians. Taking the initiative – whether that involves keeping aware of current trends and their applicability to advance business goals or acting as a visionary to connect mission and vision to initiatives – is the key to effective IT leadership.

If you want a seat at the table, you need to set a place for yourself first.

What's in your organization's IT Bag?   Make sure you have the people, processes, tools, and talents to advance your  association or nonprofit. Get Our Free Checklist

Flickr photo by Ashley

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