Three Tips for Creating a Business-Savvy Information Technology Staff

Your information technology staff is a great resource for competitive advantage, but only if you help your employees understand how the company makes money.

By Diann Daniel
Wed, October 24, 2007

CIO — Without technology, you wouldn't have a business. And yet, information technology staffs often do not have an integrated view of how technology enables their company to make money.

Getting that knowledge and providing it to your staff should be a priority, says Todd Davis, vice president of property systems development and administration for Choice Hotels International, the franchiser of such brands as Comfort Inn, Clarion and Econolodge. When your staff knows where the money comes from and where it goes, they are better able to see opportunities to differentiate the company from the competition.

While it's true that some IT departments are content in playing the traditional role of service provider, the majority needs to play a larger role in facilitating corporate innovation and growth, says Chris Potts, director of the IT consultancy Dominic Barrow

. The key, says Potts, is to get beyond mere IT-business alignment—which implies that IT and the business are separate entities. Instead, IT leaders advise, shoot for a higher degree of IT-business integration through which IT is embedded in business decisions.

To accomplish that integration, everyone in IT has to learn how the business makes money and how to use that information to generate new innovations and revenue opportunities. Doing so helps you to increase IT's value to the organization. Here are three ways to make that happen.

Think Like a CEO and a CFO

At the top of every CEO's and CFO's mind is the fact that for every dollar coming in the front door, a portion is going out the back in the form of costs. Studying that equation can help you discover ways to save and generate revenue.

Potts also advises thinking ahead. For example, only a few hotel chains offer free wireless broadband, but that's unlikely be a differentiator in three to five years. Ask yourself not just how IT contributes to today's business model, but how that will change in the future.

Choice Hotels' Davis makes a point to focus on the importance of the bottom line by bringing in the finance group to talk with his team about how the company earns revenue, where the profit goes and where excess cash may be invested. Such information "helps focus employees' thought processes around innovation," he says.

"If you understand areas where we're growing in, you can potentially come up with new ideas or different ways to do things that will bring a competitive advantage," he says. These ideas may range from a function on a website to improvements in customer service to changes in internal processes.

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