A-Teams of IT: How to Build a Crack Strike Force

IT A-Team Personnel No. 6: Usability Wonk

No mission can be considered a success if it results in a fix nobody uses. Here, a usability wonk is key. After all, if you can't get people to use your in-house development projects, you might as well have invested that money in "MacGruber."

"The user interface is an integral part of all software, as important in the enterprise as it is in consumer products," says Rene Bonvanie, vice president of worldwide marketing for security vendor Palo Alto Networks. "If you and I stood on top of all the software that was developed and never touched because it was unusable, we'd be on a pile taller than Mount Everest."

Though not necessarily a coder, the usability wonk needs to work closely with the coding genius, whether it's on a mobile app for your sales team's smartphones or a new module for the ERP system, says Annette Priest, a user experience architect and principal of UI consulting firm Revel Insight.

"You need someone who understands the pros and cons of different approaches to UIs and is good at negotiating with the design team," says Priest. "If they recommend one approach the dev team rejects as too time-consuming or expensive, the usability engineer may have another approach that works for both the customers and the tech team."

When it comes to software UI, a lot of enterprises are still stuck in the 1990s, says Priest. They tend to be slower in adopting the kinds of industrial dashboards common to modern software in part because they're afraid they might break something in the process. Yet for the newest generation of employees raised on iTunes and Facebook, these interfaces have become a working requirement.

"People coming into the enterprise today have very different expectations for usability," says Tata's Ali. "You'll want usability experts as part of your testing and assurance team. For a lot of IT users, the functionality of a system and what it delivers in terms of technology and business processes is a given. Whether they like or dislike it comes from how easy or tough it is to use."

IT A-Team Personnel No. 7: Cultural Attaché

Your special-ops assignment may have been heralded a complete success, but there's always a sequel lurking around the corner. After all, nothing in IT stays static for very long, which means your team has to stay on top of technology trends or risk losing its alpha status. In fact, sometimes the most successful A-Team mission is the one that is avoided altogether--by keeping ahead of the curve.

"It is essential that A-Team members remain vigilant in the evolution of technology," says Eliassen Group's Cuneo. "This is not only important from a purist sense, but also from a practical sense in order to provide optimal business solutions."

Though you may not necessarily want to hire someone who does nothing all day but keep an eye on trends, you'll want members on your team who live and breathe the the technology your users are using every day.

"Give me somebody who understands the shifts in how the different cultures and generations use computers," says Archibald. "There is no 'one size fits all' anymore. Gen Z/Millennials would rather have an iPhone/Droid and a tablet with no cube, or maybe a couch. Baby Boomers are still using tower desktops and want an office, not a cube."

A-Teamers must be up to speed on the smartphones, tablets, social networks, and mobile apps du jour. If popular enough, these items will eventually make their way into your organization, whether you like it or not. You'll need to be ready for them.

"The biggest thing you should look for is people who come in the door with a consumer mentality," says Bonvanie. "They understand how technology being used by consumers is being brought into the business. You want someone who's always trying out new things, that superuser who knows more about Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace than the 24-year-old MBA who just walked onto the sales or marketing team. That's what it takes to stay ahead in IT and keep your job."

Dan Tynan is contributing editor at InfoWorld, author of the Tynan on Technology blog, and co-founder of eSarcasm, an award-winning geek humor site. (Note: Awards still pending.)

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