How good are your visualization abilities? What is the name of the manufacturer of your companys HVAC system? As far apart as those two questions seem to be, they should be on your companys technology skills list. Being able to answer those questions and ones like them is also important to your career.
I was thinking of the first question after a phone conversation with a technology executive in the banking industry who was instrumental in bringing together two disparate computer systems following an acquisition. The second question came to mind following an e-mail response to a recent column I wrote about the need for the technology industry to become a player rather than a bystander in an era of circa-$3-a-gallon prices for gasoline.
David Nix is vice president of online banking solutions for SunTrust Banks.
Following his companys acquisition of National Commerce Financial, Nix was handed an aggressive schedule to create a banking portal that would incorporate new capabilities for users and be successful in bringing National customers into the SunTrust fold. Experience from past projects showed Nix that this would probably mean lots of meetings, lots of PowerPoint presentations and lots of changes at the last minute that would push deadlines beyond the reasonable. So this time around, Nix chose to use a simulation tool from iRise.
The simulation process eliminated a lot of the back-and-forth sessions that delayed prior projects. "We had complete buy-in [from management] upfront in the process," Nix told me. The upfront buy-in allowed the SunTrust developers to work on integration and scale rather than on a long list of change orders.
There are a lot of simulation products coming on the market, but the overriding goal for technology managers in need of such a product should be to find one they are comfortable with and use that at the front end of a process. The concept of aligning tech capabilities with business needs is a long-standing mantra of technology deployment. What have been missing are simulation products that help the concept take form using an actionable process. Simulation is a skill not often taught in business schools or technology courses, but it is a skill that is now needed.
Knowledge of physical systems is another area where IT comes up short. Im not talking about knowledge of traditional computer and networking systems. Im talking about the systems that drive the rest of your companys operations but often are hidden from the technology managers view. A recent column I wrote on energy management drew a response from a reader noting that while he works for a wireless vendor and his wife works for an energy management consultancy, there are no products that bridge the gap between wireless and energy management.
Looking for those bridges should become a major task for your technology department. Can you describe your current heating and air-conditioning systems? What about your security systems (physical security systems, not computer security)? Does your company use a fleet management system for its automobiles and trucks, or does it simply treat all those gasoline purchases as reimbursable travel expenditures?
Whereas the focus on integrating existing databases and financial systems has been all the rage for the past three years, the physical systems on which a company relies have remained independent, unconnected islands. That will change with the price of oil moving upward. You should be able to view a companys energy and fuel usage in as timely a manner as you can view financial performance.
The skills needed to make good use of simulation products and the knowledge of a companys physical systems are not topics being taught in technology schools. They are also not the areas of expertise that are often part of a job description. But they will be items that you will want to have on your résumé in the coming years as companies look for managers who can accomplish projects on time and also build a truly integrated company that is both financially efficient and energywise.
Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.