Business · CIO

Understanding the Network Effect in IT

When discussing the combination of Information Technology (IT) & network, one quickly runs to thinking about cabling, connectors, switches, hubs and routers. However, there is another type of network that has nothing to do with technology yet directly impacts the effectiveness of an IT organization. This type of network involves people, empathy, credibility and humility.

THE NETWORK EFFECT

Many enterprise organizations believe that the Chief Information Officer (CIO) or the senior most person in IT is the key person that engages with the rest of the company. That is only slightly correct as it ignores the impact from the rest of the IT organization. And it is this impact that actually has a more significant bearing on how those outside of the IT organization view the organization itself. What is at work here is the Network Effect.

How does the network effect affect IT? Let us assume that the CIO spends all 40 hours each week engaging with those outside of IT. Yet, their staff of 100 only spends 20% of their time engaging outside of IT. That would equate to (100 staff x 20% of time x 40 hrs/wk) 800 hours each week or 20x more time than the CIO.

While it is important for the CIO to carry a consistent and appropriate message when engaging with those outside of IT, the same is true for rest of the IT organization. The more people that engage with folks outside of IT, the greater the network effect. And from a numbers perspective, the impact is significant. So is the risk.

UPSIDES AND DOWNSIDES

Creating a consistent message and culture is a critical objective for any leader, not just the CIO. However, when it comes to IT, there are other factors that can turn a positive opportunity into a negative experience.

Most leaders understand the importance of credibility and empathy. This is especially true when considering the support nature of an IT organization. When moving further into the organization, these qualities are often less developed or immature. As a consequence, a potentially positive interaction can quickly turn negative in the form of diminishing credibility for the entire organization.

Each organization is unique in their culture, leadership, and way they engage. Whether it be the CIO or their staff, one should never lose sight of the big picture as it provides the context and guidance for everyone in the company. It is easy to get caught up in the situation and lose sight of the overall situation. Even the smallest actions can have a demonstrable impact.

Too often, IT folks try to mask transparency and quickly run toward solutions centered around their frame of reference which often comes from a siloed perspective. As such, they lack empathy in the user’s situation and how it relates to the big picture.

THE SOFT SKILLS

In IT, we tend to focus on the hard skills of technology with less emphasis on the softer side. Yet, it is those soft skills that can quickly turn a situation into either a positive or negative one. Showing genuine empathy to a situation without placing blame creates a very different perspective.

In the end, whether you are a CIO, leader of an IT organization or individual contributor, it is important to understand the impact of your actions and the actions of your staff. Even those interactions that may seem innocuous can have a resounding and lasting effect. It can lead to building credibility or tearing it down. And credibility is what provides the foundation for relationships, yet we often do not think about how our actions build or diminish it. Hence, the network effect creates a level of opportunity and challenge.

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