Initially released February 6, 2017 for MISTI – Business for Technologists – Technologists are the bedrock of IT and IT security. They innovate, create, build, implement, maintain, and decommission the most amazing software and hardware systems ever compiled. Even something as simple as a file server, which is only supposed to store and backup files, has to deal with firewall rules, authentication, authorization, travel across VPN’s, backup/restore, and monstrous amounts of other factors.
Why do technologists not understand business?
Why do technologists struggle to become entrepreneurs? And when they’re embedded in a corporation, why do they have issues getting budget allocated to handle the problems that they, the techie, can clearly see will cause massive issues in the future? Why does senior leadership not understand the problem from the techie’s perspective?
Because business is not tech. Corporations these days look at technology as a cost center unless the business is either a bank or an information security company. Sure they may spend money on the new shiny “next-gen” equipment, but does it really enhance operations? The answer is emphatically “No.”
Tech is not business unless you are in the business of tech
The structural elements of technology are the pieces that support revenue generation, but they don’t actually generate any revenue on their own. It is the people and other intellectual resources within an organization that make the business run (and generate revenue), with direction from senior leadership.
Yet we see the technologists as the “Entrepreneur-Revolutionaries.” Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates. All techies, all disruptive innovators, all amazing! There’s a catch.
Very few serious technologists are business people
Notice the three entrepreneurs mentioned above? Why do you think there are so few of those types of names that are also household names? Because there aren’t many of them. Like God, Cher, and Superman, there aren’t many immediately recognizable super-beings, super-music, or super-heroes.
“But I have a great idea!!! It solves a big problem I have! I should make a billion dollars!” say more entrepreneurs than we can count. “Who else has that problem? Are there enough of them with enough spend that we can make a billion dollars?” asked every angel investor and VC firm ever.
Technologists spend time thinking about problems and solutions. It’s massively important! But business people, unlike technologists, think about their product or service in terms of who will buy it, who will support it, who will maintain it, and how much it will cost to acquire a customer. There are other considerations too: How to market it, how to brand it, how to protect the intellectual property, and how to raise enough money to get the cash flow working in the corporate favor rather than burning right through all the funds.
Selling a product is just as hard as developing the product
Most technologists don’t realize that there are sales leads that need to be generated, contacts that need to be cultivated, and supporting business purchases that need to be made (insurance, legal services, copiers, accounting software, anyone?). All of this under the mountain of paperwork that needs to be completed to ensure that one party does not take unfair advantage of the other during the process. If that’s not enough to think about, all of this must meet the goals of the business and be tied to the direction of senior leadership.
Business needs to learn how to interface with technologists
Business people can work with technologists to learn how to think about solving technology problems, and how to understand the terminology and thought processes of a technology buyer. To sell the solution properly, discuss it intelligibly, and sustain growth, business people must learn these skills.
The end game
Technologists generally have massive issues seeing the bigger picture, just as business people have massive issues understanding the complexities of the technology solutions built. These different ways of thinking are not failures on anyone’s part; in fact, they are learning experiences waiting to happen. Technologists can work with business people to learn how to implement, sell, market and brand a given solution, and then learn how to grow a business based on that solution. Next, they can architect solutions to make it easier for business.
Ultimately, communication is the answer.
About the Authors: Joshua Marpet and Scott Lyons can be found presenting at InfoSec World, and other MISTI conferences, as well as Security BSides Delaware, Derbycon, Defcon, Shmoocon, etc. Ask them business, entrepreneurial, and technology questions. But be ready to get a long answer. Have a drink with you. You’ll need it.