“To give credit where credit is due.” It’s a wonderful thought, one that’s often uttered when an enterprise achieves a significant business success or reaches an important milestone. Yet when it’s time to hand out honors and awards the IT department is often forgotten, despite the fact that its leader, managers and staff provided the technologies that allowed the enterprise to reach its new plateau.
That’s a shame, observes Mike Kanazawa, a strategy leader at EY Advisory, a business consulting firm. “Today, IT platforms are powering digital innovation and growth,” he says. “Without giving IT the credit it deserves, companies are left underinvesting in evolving the core systems to support the speed, agility and scale to drive digital innovation.”
Failing to recognize IT’s participation in critical business successes promotes the now-debunked view that IT is simply an inescapable cost center. “The CIO’s job is to ensure that technology is used to generate maximum business value and will fail to do so if IT costs are viewed as overhead rather than critical business investments,” explains Michael Cantor, CIO of Park Place Technologies, a data center maintenance service provider. “If a CIO wants to maximize the business value of the company, he or she must gain recognition for IT’s contribution in order to obtain an appropriate share of capital dollars.”
So how can a CIO raise IT’s profile and help it claim its fair share of enterprise recognition? Here are seven ways to get started.
1. Become more business conscious
In past years, IT leaders coming out of engineering or computer science programs generally received little or no business training. “In the late 1980s, the most common performance metrics of IT staffs and their computer systems was efficiency — how to save operational costs and improve productivity,” notes Tung Bui, professor and chair of the information technology management department at the University of Hawaii’s Shidler College of Business. “Today, these metrics should be at strategic levels — a matter of win or lose, or life or death, in a world of accelerated competition.”
The problem is that many IT leaders haven’t kept pace with the changing role of their departments. “IT leaders don’t speak the language of business in a persuasive manner,” Bui observes.
IT’s business disconnect is a major reason why the department often has a lower profile than sales, finance, production, purchasing and other business-oriented organizations. “In order for IT to get the credit it deserves, CTOs or CIOs need to be groomed into business strategists, not focusing solely on automating business processes at the operational level,” Bui says.
IT leaders need to ensure that department efforts are focused on business success, says John Pescatore, a director at SANS Institute, a cybersecurity training and certification organization. “Every IT project should have a business champion and some success metrics,” he says. “If the project meets those metrics, the business champion should agree to send ‘kudos’ up the chain pointing to the role IT played in the project meeting its business goals.”
Nick Kamboj, CEO of Aston & James, an advisory service for prospective MBA students, urges IT leaders to protect their department’s image by practicing strict business discipline. Kamboj, a former professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, notes that many IT bosses get carried away by unproven emerging technologies. The problem is that an ill-considered technology, deployed prematurely or ineffectively, does more harm than good — both to the enterprise and the IT department’s reputation. “The business gets really upset when they see IT blowing significant monies on capital expenditures while providing little to no value for the business,” he adds.
2. Commit to bridging the IT-business credibility gap
IT leaders need to shift enterprise management’s perception of their department from a standalone service-oriented entity to a strategic business-enabling partner, one that makes value-added decisions that brings in new opportunities and revenue. “An IT leader can do this by being actively involved or having his/her staff … entrenched in business planning/contract activities and truly understanding the business’ needs and addressing them accordingly,” Kamboj says.
Bui feels that business department chiefs should be encouraged to work with their IT colleagues to map out creative ideas for using technology to bring competitiveness to the next level. “Many technology firms, such as Microsoft, have specialists … to help CEOs and business leaders understand and appreciate the potential of IT,” he notes.
Yet Brent Rasmussen, executive vice president and CIO of real estate firm Carrington Mortgage Holdings, cautions IT leaders not to be too accommodating to their business counterparts, immediately agreeing to requests no matter the cost or practicality. “Too often, IT leaders try to give everyone everything they want, whenever they want it,” he explains. “IT must make tough decisions regarding security, foundational technology solutions and the long-term impact of new or legacy technologies, so saying yes to everything does not set the IT group up for success.”
Rasmussen also urges IT leaders seeking increased recognition for their organizations not to hog the spotlight. “Each initiative must be a shared journey with your customer,” he says. “This ensures that business leaders share in the credit and celebrates success with their technology partners.”
3. Build a strong IT steering committee
Cantor suggests that every IT department should ratchet up its steering committee participation. “The steering committee is a good place to house a recurring topic of ‘wins’ and share the IT success stories behind business successes,” he advises. Steering committees are also often tasked with producing internal publications that highlight significant enterprise achievements and innovations. “The partnership can ensure that IT is at the table when these publications occur and provide an opportunity to include IT in the message,” Cantor says.
4. Form partnerships with key business allies
By partnering with business colleagues and bringing useful ideas to the table, IT leaders can quickly build a positive image of their organization. “You must be proactive — it helps to ensure value,” advises Barry Shurkey, CIO of NTT Data Services, an IT service management company.
The highest value digital transformations are driven by blended teams of business, design and technology mindsets and experiences, Kanazawa says. “When seeking to raise its profile, IT should be tied to bringing it closer to product/service design teams, sales and marketing and sharing in the successes as a joint effort.”
5. Build on previous successes
Every IT organization must carefully protect and nurture its brand. “Repeated and measurable results are the foundation of an IT organization’s identity,” Rasmussen notes. “This also ensures that IT is involved in the strategic direction of the company and is an essential part of the executive decision-making process.”
IT can quickly elevate its profile by developing services that customers, employees or partners rave about. “Beyond adoption, demonstrating early success through metrics around revenue, cost savings and ease of use or speed are equally critical elements of demonstrating value and ensuring credit for a business success,” Kanazawa says.
“The most valuable credit for a job well done is that which is bestowed on your IT organization by your customer,” Rasmussen observes.
6. Ensure that IT’s voice is clearly heard
Pull IT out of the shadows by keeping business leaders informed about recent achievements. “Present regularly to executive management on the performance of IT,” advises Ray McKenzie, founder and managing director of Red Beach Advisors, a business management consulting group. “It’s helpful to include the amount of tickets worked by customers, the number of incidents detected and resolved, the performance of the team against defined SLAs, KPIs … and to collect feedback from executives on needs.”
It’s also important to share any credit IT receives over multiple mediums. “You can’t just depend on email anymore,” Shurkey says. News about crucial accomplishments needs to be shared in multiple forms over internal channels. External communication is also critical. “If their business colleagues can see [achievement news] on LinkedIn or Twitter, they’ll know they’re even getting recognition publicly in front of their peers,” he notes.
7. Deliver a unified message
The CIO, IT managers and staff should all be turned to the same frequency. “The importance of the CIO directly conveying a cohesive message to clients and customers cannot be overstated,” Rasmussen stresses. IT leaders must hold each team member accountable for their part of the process, “I follow the TOFU method: take ownership and follow up,” he adds.
Business successes need to be celebrated throughout the enterprise. “Making sure your IT team is part of those celebrations is your responsibility as an IT leader,” Shurkey says. Trusted colleagues shouldn’t have to ask for permission to attend a celebration. “You owe it to your team to build relationships with your business and understand how they go to market,” he notes. “That’s how you build out innovative solutions for the business.”