Several years ago I started delivering a talk entitled Getting Out of the Engine Room. It drew a parallel between the engine room of a cruise ship and the IT department of most companies. It put forward the simple argument that, like the engine room, the IT department was absolutely critical but largely invisible. During this talk I ask people who have been on a luxury liner, if during their cruise, they went below deck to pound on the engine room door and thank the crew inside. As you might expect, this generally evokes quite a few giggles from the crowd. But no hands ever go up.
Last August (2010) a cruise ship had a small engine room fire. This enormous ship lost all motive power, had no heat or light, no prepared food, no entertainment and a lot of miserable passengers. Without the engine room the ship was completely crippled.
Whatever your perspective may be from inside the engine room, the people outside simply expect flawless operations and failures are typically the only thing they will notice. I encourage IT professionals to get out of the engine room. You have to be up on deck with the rest of the crew and your passengers. Understanding what the crew need and what the passengers want is crucial to your success. In other words, unless you understand the business and know what customers want you cannot add value in any significant way. If you spend your entire day huddled over a keyboard inside the server room you are out of touch and too focused on technology.
I recall a staff meeting where I asked how many of the IT staff had attended a meeting with a customer or visited a production line. When a relatively small number of hands went up I asked the follow on question; how do you support a business when you don't know what they do?
Of course, it is also highly desirable to be on the same course as the captain. In fact, the ultimate achievement is to be on the bridge helping the captain chart a new course. I wonder how many of you have read the most recent annual report or 10K for your company. Do you have a clear view from the bridge or are you busy stoking the engines without knowing where you are headed.
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