CXO

10 IT basics that business managers need to know

IT plays into many business decisions these days, so non-tech managers need a solid grasp of key tech concepts. Mary Shacklett runs through the most essential areas of knowledge.

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Image: iStockphoto.com/STEEX

Technology has become so deeply rooted in business, non-IT managers can't afford not to learn about IT basics. These 10 fundamental IT topics and practices need to be on every business manager's list for developing their tech skills and knowledge.

1: How to define a business case for a new application

Especially in big data and analytics projects, IT is often left on its own to try to make the analytics work—without the benefit of strong business cases that can return immediate value to the organization. This is where end business managers should be stepping in to define the ways new technology can best help.

They can do this is by describing specific business problems they want to solve with the help of technology. For instance, the goal might be to cut down on machine failure and maintenance by developing analytics that can monitor machines and detect those likely to fail, so a maintenance crew can be dispatched before any failure can occur—thus saving the company downtime and money. Business managers should be defining these business cases so IT can focus on developing the technology to solve the problem.

2: How to work with an IT vendor

Almost every business unit today works at some point with vendors offering technology. However, before business managers sign on with vendors, they should fully understand their own (and the vendor's) technical and legal liabilities under the contract, what the vendor's service levels are, how the vendor guarantees uptime, and how the vendor secures and keeps data and applications safe. IT typically vets these areas and should ideally be called into the process to make sure everything is in order. However, business managers should also have a working knowledge of these issues so they can participate in discussions.

3: What IT contributes to the
organization

IT is often perceived as a "roadblock" department by business managers when they want to get something done. But a more cooperative relationship can be forged with IT if those managers understand IT's responsibilities to the organization.

These responsibilities include keeping systems and networks up; ensuring security and privacy for intellectual property, mission-critical applications, and sensitive data; protecting the company from security breaches, malicious viruses, and malware; ensuring that employees are using systems properly; tracking and monitoring system assets; developing and maintaining applications; and managing relations with technology vendors. Each area involves many essential steps—and they take time. Once managers understand this, they're in a better position to evaluate whether IT is truly slow and unresponsive or whether there are simply many steps IT must take through a given process.

4: How to address security matters

Employees visiting unsafe websites on company time and passing dangerous viruses and malware into the network—or sharing user IDs and passwords with co-workers—are major risk areas that business managers can do something about. They can educate staff on the importance of avoiding unauthorized websites, opening strange emails, and casually giving out user IDs and passwords.

SEE: email usage policy (Tech Pro Research)

5: How to effectively use mobile and desktop/laptop devices

The days of administrative assistance for every manager are long over. Business managers today should be fluent with mobile, laptop, and desktop devices.

6: How to conserve energy and protect equipment

Computers continue to be left on in work areas after employees leave for the day—and in some cases, like in a factory or a warehouse, computers and even local servers can be left to operate in dusty conditions with temperatures that are either too hot or too cold. All these conditions contribute to excess energy consumption and to premature failures of equipment. Business managers can help this situation if they educate staff on the proper care of computerized gear.

7: How to develop basic reports

Whether it is an Excel report, an end-user reporting tool, or a way to customize a dashboard or an online display, business managers need basic skills to develop their own reports. Of course, there are some highly complex reports that IT must still develop. But most companies have end-user reporting tools that non-IT users can use to create their own reports without having to call IT.

See: Make summarizing and reporting easy with Excel PivotTables

8: How to take advantages of IT services

Many IT departments are shifting to a self-service philosophy. They are doing this by making portals into private clouds or intranets that end users can access to use or request IT services. Business managers should know what is available on these self-service platforms so they can take advantage of all the resources.

9: What tech lingo actually means

IT is packed full of acronyms and technical jargon that can intimidate end business users. By visiting an IT website, picking up a technology journal for a few minutes each week, and attending an occasional IT seminar, non-tech managers can master some of the specialized terminology they need to communicate effectively with vendors and IT.

SEE: Quick glossary: Business intelligence and analytics (Tech Pro Research)

10: Where technology fits in with business plans

Almost everyone sees technology as a driving force when they work on their three- and five-year strategic plans. This is also a good time to find out what's in the IT plan. The exercise builds technology partnerships and helps prevent double investments in the same technologies.

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About Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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