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MBA in IT: Bridging the gap between business and IT

MBA in IT: Bridging the gap between business and IT main image

This article is sponsored by Nyenrode Business University. Do you and your co-workers speak the same language? Check Nyenrode's Modular Executive MBA in Business & IT.

Business and IT are interconnected; nearly all business decisions will have IT-related consequences, and vice versa. As a result, business staff and IT staff need to interact.

However this can be difficult; business managers and IT professionals often do not speak the same language. An MBA, however, can help bridge this gap by giving IT professionals the communication skills they need for the boardroom, and management the IT-systems knowledge they need in order to make informed decisions.

The gap between business and IT

Most IT recruiting firms focus on graduates of technical universities, meaning many organizations end up with young IT staff who have a good understanding of information systems but not of business. Many reach leadership positions by virtue of their technical expertise and professionalism. But when put in management roles they may find themselves surrounded by businesspeople who speak a language that is different from their ‘techie speech’.

“If [IT professionals] work for a bank, for instance, they might know everything about IT in the bank, but they have no idea about interest rates or the bank’s strategy, or problems that arise in financial markets,” explains Marcel Creemers, director of modular EMBA programs at Nyenrode Universiteit.

Since 2010, Nyenrode has offered an MBA in Business & IT developed in conjunction with CIO Platform Nederland, an independent association of CIOs and IT managers in the Netherlands. The program doesn’t only attract IT professionals. Half of the program’s 80 students are in general management roles that may put them on the path of becoming a CIO, roles such as sales manager or HR manager. The MBA in Business & IT program gives general managers and IT managers an opportunity to participate in an open dialog with one another – something that rarely happens in the corporate workplace, according to Creemers.

“The IT department is very well-known for not really communicating with the business. And I think that has something to do with the training as a professional, but it is also due to the concentration on IT systems, which somehow makes it very difficult to communicate with others.”

The importance of communication between business and IT

Even though IT staff members perform technical tasks, they still need to have business knowledge in order to effectively explain what they are doing to management.

“When you are talking about new systems or alterations to existing systems, you have to understand what the most important things are in your organization; not from the IT point of view, but from the general business point of view,” Creemers points out. He goes on to state that an MBA allows IT professionals to communicate better with their business colleagues because they “learn to speak the board language.”

Good communication with business staff isn’t just a matter of business knowledge, but skill as well. MBA programs train business and IT professionals in how to effectively write, debate and present. Simulations, games, and feedback sessions give professionals a chance to assess their current communication habits and reflect on ways to improve.

How an MBA helps IT staff develop better business management skills

Communication isn’t the only MBA skill that can help IT professionals do their job. Other essential non-technical skills including business architecture, project management, compliance and performance monitoring, and supplier management. These are some of the skills included in the European e-Competence Framework – a list of 36 competencies that are required for modern IT management.

In addition to learning strategy and finance, many students in Nyenrode’s MBA in Business & IT program read profit and loss statements and balance sheets for the first time. “It’s opening a world for them that they aren’t used to. If you can do that, then you can better understand the businesspeople in your organization,” Creemers reflects.

Students on Nyenrode’s MBA in Business & IT program are required to talk with managers in their organization in order to complete class projects. If a student is learning about HR, for example, they may get to interview their company’s HR manager in exchange for help on writing an IT-related document or answering IT questions. This exchange allows IT professionals and business managers to learn from one another, and begins the process of interdepartmental communication.

An MBA can help managers make better IT decisions

While business managers do not need to understand the nuts and bolts of IT as part of their day-to day jobs, they do need to understand the business aspects of systems in order to make informed choices. Not only do managers need to make decisions about IT staff and budgets, they also need to be able to assess how technology creates value for their organization, as well as the source of that value.

Managers also need to know about systems that may be taking value away from their organization. Many companies have a large number of legacy systems – systems that rely on outdated modes of unsupported technology that continue to be used. Some of these systems can stay in place for up to 30 years, making them difficult to fix. They also present potential security risks, since the original software companies no longer produce updates.

Business managers are often involved in the deciding whether or not these systems should be kept, especially since many of the people who put these systems in place have left the organization. “Most managers do not understand the risks of having such large legacy systems”, Creemers explains.

It is also key that business managers understand how current technology and security trends can affect their organization. There is a lot of talk about moving files ‘into the cloud’, and students in Nyenrode’s MBA in Business & IT program debate the business merits of moving their IT storage to a cloud based system. Students also learn about online security – how to know if their system is secure as well as how to protect their IT systems.

An MBA can give both IT professionals and business managers the skills they need to bridge the gap. By having both business and IT professionals in the same room, it creates opportunities for dialog that wouldn’t otherwise occur, and gives people from two very different worlds a chance to better understand one another.

This article is sponsored by Nyenrode Business University. Do you and your co-workers speak the same language? Check Nyenrode's Modular Executive MBA in Business & IT.

Written by Nicole Willson

Nicole is the SEO manager of TopMBA.com, as well as a contributing author. She holds a BA in history and sociology, and a master's in library science. Aside from her work for QS, Nicole is a long-time contributing editor and administrator for WikiHow.

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