​I’ve been working in IT for a long time—mostly in professional services—and in this capacity I’ve worked with partners to implement business applications. This can be a complex endeavor, requiring the involvement of legions of analysts and programmers who build infrastructure, write interfaces, and customize software. However, in my experience, there were rarely enough people assigned to a project who had real business expertise in whatever it was that we were implementing. When working on, say, an integrated cart solution designed to manage patient care, it would be typical to work with a team of consultants; however, involving the input of a nurse who actually worked with patients in a hospital was not something that usually happened.

 
It would be terrific to leverage the experience of business professionals to provide the kind of functional information needed to build a system that actually worked for the people for whom it was designed. It is now possible to gather such functional information using tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media.
 
Expertise Yields Winning Ideas
 
Case in point: A unified communications developer recently told me that she had to visit a sick relative in the hospital. The developer hadn’t been near a hospital in ages, so she was surprised by how much technology the nurses on the floor used. They had carts that rolled from room to room which housed laptops that connected to the main hospital systems. These laptops were used to track every facet of patient care. As an expert in unified communications, the developer worked with video and communication systems. She had the idea to add unified communications to the carts to increase the ability of the floor staff and patients to interact with medical experts in remote locations or even with family members. By talking with the nurses on the floor and then participating in some relevant LinkedIn groups, the developer validated her idea. She built a demo that resulted in winning new business.
 
Online Communities Are a Consultative Resource
 
As you start your next project, consider joining LinkedIn groups that cover issues about the business for which you are designing a solution; examples might include student enrollment, hospital administration, or managing collections in libraries. There are plenty of groups out there. Start by posting a question—you may be amazed by the number of responses you get. Some people on LinkedIn may also be willing to help you offline and review your solution.
 
Getting out of your IT silo and joining the larger community of business professionals is a way to build the kind of solutions that truly resonate with their intended end users. Business professionals can share information that is extremely valuable for your business, and they will also appreciate the opportunity to ask you IT questions.
 
As with any successful relationship—the more you give, the more you get back. ​