IT moves from support to strategic asset

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For decades, technology's primary role in b-to-b media companies was operational. It helped enable the processes involved in putting out a magazine, such as writing, editing, page layout, tracking of ad bookings and materials, and contact management.

With the rise of the Internet, it started playing a vital role in other processes, such as Web page design, digital advertising, tracking of users and page views, distribution of e-newsletters and customer relationship management.

More recently, technology choices and investments have become a C-suite matter, partly because of technology's high cost but also because it has a hand-in-glove relationship to the mission, vision, branding and future direction of a media company in the digital age.

At American Business Media's Top Management Meeting last month in Chicago, a panel discussed issues surrounding IT. Panelists emphasized that the integration of the technology with the media company's organization is as critical a consideration as the choice of the technology itself.

Patrik Dyberg, VP-technology at McGraw-Hill Cos.' Business Information Group, pointed out that technology in the b-to-b media space is designed to be highly dependable—to get magazines and e-newsletters out or to get content up on the Web—but not to be a platform for constant adaptation and innovation.

"The relationship between technology and the business needs to change," Dyberg said. "The traditional IT organization has expertise in writing code. Today, your IT team needs to understand your business goals and effectively design and manage projects rather than simply build them."

IT departments need to act more like business owners, Dyberg added. "At the end of the day, you need people who can make technology work for your customers, who can put new products out into the market."

Rose Southard, IT director at Putman Media, agreed. "Our job as technicians is to understand your business and help you get your job done," she said. "The key is to hire the right people for your IT staff."

While IT knowledge is important, she added, once-complicated Internet tools are becoming easier for the layperson to use. "To get the most out of your technicians, you have to find out what technologies they themselves are using because those will become mainstream at some point," she said.

Challenge technicians "to make sure you make the most of that IT spend," she added. "They know what's hard and expensive to do, and they know what's quick, easy and inexpensive."

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