Absolute Alignment: How One CIO Remains in Lock-Step with the Business

Sensis CIO Tom Uva says alignment isn't rocket science, and he's created a framework to ensure that IT staffers focus on strategic business priorities. "There is nowhere to hide," Uva says. "You deliver or you don't."

Every Thursday afternoon at 1:30 p.m., Tom Uva's senior IT team gathers in his office. They do not assemble to shoot the breeze or grumble about the potent weather in Syracuse, N.Y., where their company, Sensis, an aerospace and defense manufacturer selling to a host of three-letter acronym U.S. government agencies, is headquartered.

Uva's team congregates weekly to discuss the status of each and every business project that has an IT component. The assemblage consists of the leaders of the CIO's five groups that comprise Sensis Corporate Technology Solutions (CTS): Business Solutions, which covers apps and data management; a network ops team; Client Services, responsible for all IT activities for the Sensis user community; Information Protection, or security; and "Run as a Business," which is responsible for such jobs as the IT group's own financials, vendor management and training programs.

The number of each team's "priorities" can range anywhere from five to 10 per month. (Priorities can be one project or, more often, a component of a larger IT project.) As always, the assemblage's first main concern, Uva says, is to see what they can do to get the priorities' statuses that are red or yellow to green—in other words, from not done to done.

The meeting, in and of itself, is probably just like any other "status update" meeting held in the confines of any other CIO's office.

Sensis CIO Tom Uva

But what is different about this meeting—what makes it more effective, precise and strategic than most—is this: All in attendance know that Sensis's executive team and each business unit that CTS is partnering with has signed off on every priority and is equally committed to its success; they know that every Sensis employee will see their success or failure for the month; and finally, they know that part of their pay is tied to the success of the entire CTS portfolio.

They know all this because Uva set it up this way: Each year, business and IT leaders establish an IT operating plan that's based on Sensis's overall, long-term strategies. That then cascades down into annual, quarterly and monthly IT priorities, which are tracked objectively and meticulously, and are made 100 percent visible to Sensis's lines of business.

"This is not rocket science," Uva says. He's right. It's simply an approach to mending classic business-IT disconnects. It's about transparency and truthfulness. Responsibility and rigor. Pacing and prioritization.

After those weekly meetings conclude, Uva knows that all of his staffers know exactly what to do next. "It makes sure that everyone is looking to that North Star," Uva says. "So it's not just an exercise you go through once a year and forget about it. It's very, very actively managed."

NEXT: How an influential CIO helped Uva craft his project and priorities tool

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