IT Leadership: It’s All About Business Value

It’s a lot of work to prime your IT organization for business, but it’s well worth the pain.

businessman flowchart
Credit: Wavebreak Media

The initiatives that many of this year's class of Premier 100 honorees have handled so well amount to IT 101, really. Building or acquiring IT systems that meet business needs. Implementing technology that supports or enables efficiency, productivity or a financial return on investment. Finding simple, low-cost solutions that can be put in place quickly. Understanding the business need, while making the technology secondary.

Basic stuff, right? But challenging nonetheless.

For many CIOs and IT business leaders, such efforts are easier said than done. A lot of things can get in the way. Maybe there are teams in your IT organization that have strong vendor-specific inclinations. Maybe there are pockets of resistance to trying something new. Maybe some of your employees don't really understand your company's business. And maybe those employees have grown accustomed to building what they think is needed — as opposed to what your business stakeholders require.

It's a lot of work to get past those hurdles and prime your IT organization for business, but it's well worth the pain. One way to start is to identify the IT professionals who are already business-focused and then create ongoing opportunities for them to collaborate with their business counterparts. You might set up “innovation teams,” drawing together people from both IT and the business side who take a collaborative, forward-looking approach to identifying ideas for new projects. Or you can embed IT people in key business units. (For more on how this year's Premier 100 honorees realized business needs, see "Premier 100 IT Leaders: Primed for business", by Computerworld's Tracy Mayor.)

Next, clear the decks. To help your team focus on core competencies and projects that deliver business value, it makes sense to turn over some IT functions, such as ongoing maintenance, to cloud computing vendors and other service providers.

Above all, encourage the IT staff to think about business needs first. Premier 100 honoree Ram Reddy, vice president of projects and strategy at Jacobs Engineering, wants his staffers to continually ask themselves how the technology they manage supports the business and what business processes it enables. That, he says, is “how that person becomes invaluable to the company.”

Business value means different things to different companies, but one of the best ways to build it is to make it customer-facing. At Royal Caribbean Cruises, CIO Bill Martin has made affordable, high-speed Internet service available on ships at sea. And because many passengers want to share their cruise experiences via social media, the project synced up with Royal Caribbean's business priority of using IT innovation to enable new ways to market the company's services.

Addressing a customer-facing problem can be just as big a win in a business-to-business setting. Jacobs Engineering employs 70,000 people in 28 countries and more than 250 offices. That multinational scope made it difficult for Jacobs to present a single face to its customers. In response, the company reorganized the IT function from technology-based groupings to a geographical model with units that support specific time zones. The team created a centralized global service desk by pushing accountability and leadership of all IT operational services to the regional office level, creating a shared point of contact for IT issues. There is always at least one Jacobs regional office open somewhere in the world, and each office is able to provide global support.

Whether you are reading this in our digital magazine or our comprehensive online package, you will find many compelling stories like these about how IT leaders have enhanced business value.

The 16th annual Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders awards will be formally presented at the AGENDA15 conference, March 30 to April 1 in Amelia Island, Fla. That ceremony will bring the total number of Premier 100 honorees to 1,600, and we — the editors of Computerworld — feel that an honor is also bestowed on us, because we have the opportunity to rub elbows with this large family of IT visionaries.

This story, "IT Leadership: It’s All About Business Value" was originally published by Computerworld.

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