3 Ways to Get the Business Skills You Need

Business Meeting

It isn’t enough for software engineers and developers to be masters of coding and development. You also have to be business savvy and an expert in your company’s sector, whether it’s banking, retail or whatever. But getting those skills – both financial and operational – is sometimes easier said than done, especially when you’re siloed off in IT with deadlines bearing down.

Fortunately, the answer may be right in front of you. Here’s some things to consider.

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Listen Up

It helps to pay close attention to office dynamics. In this case, just listening can give you the tools you need to address many situations.

“There seems to always be this friction between what functional managers want and what IT is willing to do, especially with SaaS and BYOD,” says Ahmet Alpdemir, a management consultant at Shimdi Venture Advisors in San Jose, Calif. “Often, there’s a middle ground to be found if IT professionals are willing to listen and understand the reason for the request, and what the use scenarios are.”

That means it’s critical for IT professionals to listen and understand what the business needs are, what they’re trying to accomplish from a business point of view, and what their goals and vision are for the company. Do that and you’ll get a true handle on how technology relates to the company’s many functions and how to work with the managers to develop upcoming use scenarios. “It’ll help them be more effective if they have a good understanding of the projected needs, so they can plan better, both from a financial point of view and for better user satisfaction,” Alpdemir says.

Make Friends

Get to know the right people in the company. Alpdemir recommends that you make friends with functional managers in areas like finance, product lines and engineering. “Product managers are expected to have a fairly well-rounded view of the projected business growth, finance managers can help with spending budgets, and engineering managers can estimate future compute requirements,” he explains.

In smaller companies, the CEO and CFO can give you a good perspective of future needs. “Sit down and ask them or the product manager what keeps them up at night about the business,” Alpdemir suggests. That’ll give you a deeper understanding of what makes the company tick and how IT might make it more profitable.

Do Your Homework

At the end of the day, there’s really no excuse for you not learn about your company’s business and the future bottlenecks that might crop up because of changes in business conditions, growth, new directions or other things that may impact IT operations.

“With the amount of resources available to us online, every person needs to go and learn something about the business world,” Alpdemir points out. That means learning what questions to ask so that you can help improve user satisfaction and decrease cost.

If your company is public, all of its financial information is available at some point. That’s not the case at private firms. But wherever you work, chances are some financial data – like a department budget analysis – is going to come your way.

To get a better understanding of the numbers, Alpdemir points finance novices to John A. Tracy’s book How to Read a Financial Report: Wringing Vital Signs Out of the Numbers. He also recommends Financial Statements for Non-Financial People by Ron Price and Financial Intelligence: A Manager’s Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean by Karen Berman and Joe Knight.

Having a true understanding of the financials “is the only way to have an appreciation for what the business is trying to do,” he says. Besides, by demonstrating your interest in the business’s well-being, you gain credibility with functional managers. By knowing the areas of growth and spending, you can plan where better scaling or other work may be needed. And finally, through the use of common language — whether it’s a product road map or return on investment analysis — you can get better support for the improvements and IT investments you want to make.

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