Bringing IT and the Business Together

CIOs use language, metrics and advocacy to bridge the separation between their departments and the rest of the company

Funny thing about the word “and.” You would think it would function as a connector, a word that implies the togetherness of two entities, like “stars and stripes” or “franks and beans.” Yet the phrase “IT and the business” does not work that way. Rather, it connotes separateness and difference, creating an “us and them” perception that belies the actual embedded condition of IT.

“That phrase drives me up the wall,” says Bill Blausey, CIO of Eaton Corporation. “I correct my team if they use it. We are all tied together too tightly to use terms that create separation.”

As any marginalized group will tell you, the language people use to describe it has a powerful impact on how it is perceived. But changing language is only one step. Relationship building and metrics also have roles to play in taking on this paradox: You are intimately involved in the business but considered separate and removed from it.

Change the name. “We used to be the IT organization, but we changed our name to ‘Information, Process and Organization,’” says Dave Patzwald, senior VP of Integration Services at Schneider Electric. “The new name is good marketing, and the rebranding process was a chance to re-engage the company about what we do.”

Get invited. For a while at Schneider Electric, “IT was the dog that ate the homework.” Patzwald would learn through the grapevine that IT had been blamed for a quality problem during the CEO’s quality review meetings, to which IT was not invited. “They did not consciously exclude us,” says Patzwald. “They just hadn’t thought about how IT could help with basic operational issues.” So Patzwald and his team developed an IT performance metric and leveraged it to gain access to those meetings. “Hearsay is one of the symptoms of the IT-business separation. You need to eliminate it.”

Find the right metric. Blausey believes metrics are the language of unity, so he developed one called “operational contribution,” a simple way to describe not only working capital reductions, but also by how much IT increased sales and reduced other departments’ costs. Because that number is more than 10 times greater than traditional IT cost reductions, he says, “we have changed the conversation from a single focus on managing IT costs to driving operational improvements toward the company’s overall objectives.”

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