Business Smarts Help Tech

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2006-11-06 Print this article Print

Identifying core processes and centralizing tech decision-making are among the keys to success.

Business Smarts Help Tech Staff

There is so much hands-on technical work at a medium-sized company that you'd be crazy to join its tech department without being well-versed in Microsoft software, BlackBerry support and Internet security. But if technical know-how is a prerequisite, an ability to understand business is increasingly the key to getting ahead.

Nowhere is this more obvious than at Par Pharmaceutical, a drugmaker in the process of adding branded prescription drugs to its lineup of generics. While business-I.T. dialogues are limited to a few high-level executives at many medium-sized companies, at Par such conversations are now part of the job description of many I.T. workers.

Since joining Par four years ago, chief information officer Gabrielle Wolfson has been increasing the I.T. department's use of such staff, whom she calls business analysts. "It could be someone who has been in purchasing for 10 years, or a CPA who decides to go into technology," she says.

About one-third of the 30 I.T. staffers at Par now have the title of either business analyst or systems analyst. Wolfson expects that percentage to rise, helped by a jump in the quality of commercial software that's letting I.T. focus on deployment, rather than immerse itself in development.

In the past, Wolfson says, a manager in Par's procurement department might go to I.T. with a request. While the request might have made sense from the individual manager's perspective, it didn't take account of the whole "procure to pay" process at Par—which flows through not only procurement but also raw materials, inventory, the manufacturing resource planning system and accounts payable. Now, before Par's I.T. department develops a solution to a problem, a business analyst assembles managers in all of those areas. "In many cases, we end up with a solution that may not even include technology," Wolfson says.

Par may be unusual among midsize companies in the complexity of its business—and the systems needed to manage them. In addition to running laboratory management and enterprise resource planning programs, the $433 million company also expects to implement a sales-force automation system to support its expansion into branded drugs. Last year, Par, based in Spring Valley, N.Y., got approval for Megace ES, a drug that combats weight loss from conditions like anorexia and AIDS.

Still, the imperative for I.T. workers to understand business as well as technology isn't limited to any particular sector. "It's going to apply in all industries," says Wolfson, a former PricewaterhouseCoopers consultant. "I've seen it."

And it may be that a company like Par offers the best chance for young technologists to see how well they can span the disciplines. According to Jeanne Ross, principal research scientist at MIT's Center for Information Systems Research, "The great thing about smaller companies is that a person could get their arms around the business with less experience."


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