“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.” – Bill Gates 

As an IT leader, you most likely can recall a moment—or moments—in time in which you have lost influence.

Perhaps it was the time you tried to advise business line unit leaders to explore a cloud-based consumption model, only to be met with blank stares. Or maybe it was when your company’s CEO returned from a conference and insisted on investing in a new technology that you had no input on whatsoever.

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The fact is that we as IT leaders are challenged with maintaining and growing our influence within our organizations. In fact, 71 percent of CIOs feel it’s difficult to strike the right balance between innovation and operational efficiency and security, according to the 2016 State of the CIO report.

The notion of “influence” within the IT department is increasingly coming up in conversation. While we as technology leaders and decision makers agree that we need to be at the forefront in controlling and driving the innovation that happens in our businesses, we are often getting outmaneuvered by third-party providers, competitors and, many times, even our own business peers in the process.

It’s been my assertion for some time now that one thing IT is well-positioned to do, but often doesn’t do enough of, is better educate and teach the business about existing and imminent trends so the business can hear about them from IT first. We have to find a way to compel the business to embrace these opportunities and leverage these technologies for innovation.

So how do we gain influence?

Defining Influence

At its core, influence refers to an ability to change or affect someone or something without actually controlling or forcing them to do it. And it can be extremely powerful when done right. For instance, on the IT front, if we can successfully influence our organizations—or actually compel our end users to want to change, adopt new technologies and move forward with us—then we can make significant impact.

Historically speaking, it had been easy for us to maintain this influence. We as technologists had a monopoly—a stronghold if you will—over the business. We were able to sit at our desks and many times wait for the business to come to us to solve their pain points. They simply had no other options.

However, much like the AT&T monopoly that was broken up in the mid-90s, we as IT are experiencing our own liberalization, or a deregulation. Suddenly, we find ourselves competing, as if we were our own business, for the mindshare and market share of our users.

Today, we watch third parties go directly to our line of business peers—our customers, if you will—and sell ease and cost savings. Additionally, we grapple with the fact that our end users oftentimes enjoy easier, richer technologies at home… something that fuels desire for better technologies in the business world. Consequently, this fierce competition has left us having to compete aggressively—and work more deliberately—to protect our customer base and grow market share.

Much like any business losing its customer base, we need to create a demand generation strategy that helps stimulate more interest for the IT department, so that we can maintain our influence.

Four Areas To Start Driving Influence Immediately

There is great disruption taking place in the IT landscape today and the amount of influence we can have is ours for the taking. There are four areas I’d like to tee up, in which I believe you can start driving innovation immediately:

  1. Next-Gen Security: The reality is no single piece of security technology exists that can make us completely secure. The number and complexity of threats in today’s landscape requires a layered approach to security—one that includes everything from asset security to threat detection and governance assistance for a comprehensive, full-service security solution.
  2. Unified Communications & Collaboration (UC&C): From Cisco WebEx to Spark, there is great advancement happening on the collaboration front. As you begin to chart your UC&C roadmap, consider how you will make influence. Will you optimize the technology assets you own today or migrate to something new?
  3. Cloud: The future of business has often been described as a movement to the cloud. No matter how you look to consume technology today—be it public, private or hybrid cloud—there are real business outcomes to derive via a move to the cloud.
  4. Networking: Whether you are looking to bring mobility to your network or optimize application delivery and end-user experience through intent-driven networking, there are possibilities when it comes to next-gen networking. As IT leaders, we can advance our network infrastructure to meet tomorrow’s standards and provide better experiences for our customers and employees.

Clearly, there is a tremendous amount of change happening around us, but also an equally compelling opportunity to affect change in our organizations by exploring these possibilities. The world we live in will continue to evolve at a breakneck pace, and we as leader have to begin to educate and engage the business to help them understand the possibilities.

I don’t know about you but I prefer to be the one bringing these things to the business. I believe that we as IT leaders are better served if we can be the influencers—teaching, tailoring and taking control of our organizations’ futures.