2010 State of the CIO: Today's Focus for IT Departments - Business Opportunities

The recession has deepened CIO understanding of and commitment to business beyond IT. It's not just about installing BI tools or upgrading ERP, but about working side by side with other company leaders to build IT into new goods and services.

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As a result of those conversations, Sturisky is considering how to provide such new services as sending notifications of canceled flights to travelers' smart phones, along with alternative itineraries. Pilot tests are planned for this year, but he's wary of pushing out gee-whiz technology that no one wants. "It's fine to have a differentiator but if it's not keeping customers, what use is it?" he says. To guard against this problem, he will track usage patterns himself, he says; doing so is another way to keep close to customers.

CIOs should also stay involved with any social media experiments their companies may try, Sturisky says, because of the business potential and the big risks. For example, BCD has a relationship with TripIt, a service that broadcasts users' travel plans to social sites such as LinkedIn. But privacy concerns mean BCD, which serves many Fortune 500 companies, will go slowly in this realm, he says. "Maybe a CEO doesn't mind publicizing that he's attending an industry conference but doesn't want it getting out that he's going to Brazil next week," he says. Competitive intelligence and personal privacy issues would vary for different BCD customers. "But that's a strategic business question that I as CIO have to be on top of."

Even informal conversations with customers, whether existing or potential, can help solidify technology decisions, says Matt Rogish, CTO at The J. Peterman Co. clothing company. By talking to consumers, friends and family—as well as living life as a 29-year-old who grew up with technology—he had spotted the desire among customers for a mobile version of J. Peterman's e-commerce site.

But he had a hard time last year convincing fellow executives of the need. They were all Blackberry users who, disliking the device's built-in browser, didn't access the Web much from their phones, Rogish says. "It wasn't until I got everyone iPhones that we became organizationally conscious that someone might be visiting our website from a mobile device," he says. "Now that the CEO can pull up our website on his phone, he says, Look, I can't use this.' So now we have money allocated to development."

Eyes now open to mobile commerce, iPhone-toting J. Peterman leaders actually have to be reigned in. Specifically, they're hot to offer an iPhone app for e-commerce but Rogish—the CTO!—says the business justification isn't there yet. Apple takes a percentage of the value of each transaction conducted via iPhone applications, he explains, which would eat into J. Peterman's profit too much. "The tug of an iPhone app is undeniable," he says. "But we'll never sell a pair of pants through an iPhone app under Apple's current terms. There would go our margins."

The Guts to Change

In addition to smarts and impeccable logic, it also takes guts for IT leaders to prevent faulty ideas from rising high on the decision tree. Rogish thinks he succeeds by staying up to speed with new technologies but not wasting energy on the latest IT fads. "I've grown up with the Internet. It's not that I'm better or worse than anyone else," he says, "but it's a different kind of mindset."

No matter the generation, though, CIOs who want to focus on external customers may have to deal with internal resistance. The way to overcome that, says Coyne of Chevron, is to be visible. When she is trying to change how people work, for example, she meets in person as much as possible with colleagues above and below her. At "Dining with Denise" lunches, she talks with lower-level employees about corporate change. At meetings once or twice a year with Chevron's senior-most executives, she explains the value of IT. In between there are monthly meetings with departments and governance boards. All the while, it's her voice, her face out there. "Blogs, e-mail, town halls, dining. The objective for me is to continuously remind everyone of the bigger picture."

Reilly White, too, is aware of her visibility at Darden and tries to use it as a tool. When restaurant operations crews see IT managers and staff in kitchens and dining rooms, they know Reilly White takes their partnership seriously. If you're not "out there" she says, you risk not understanding what your business needs.

Contact Senior Editor Kim S. Nash at knash@cio.com.

Do you tweet? Follow me on Twitter @knash99. Follow everything from CIO Magazine @CIOMagazine.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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