by Chad Quinn

How the C-Suite Needs the CIO to Lead

Oct 01, 2015
CIOIT LeadershipIT Strategy

As the role of the CIO shifts, he or she must become adept at communicating the value of IT solutions to the business. Now, all eyes are on the CIO, as the C-suite looks for a leader to connect business possibilities to new capabilities, defined and enabled by IT.

As the role of the CIO shifts, he or she must become adept at communicating the value of IT solutions to the business. Executives are looking to the CIO for insight into the best uses of technologies to create the most value for the organization.

A recent Forbes article, titled “Top Five Lessons for CIOs from C-Suite Report,” says that “CIOs used to primarily deliver value as it pertained to collaboration through the tools that they purchased and supported. Now to a greater extent, they are becoming the hubs of communications among the executives.”

That’s a significant change. The CIO—not the CMO, CEO, or CFO—is the “hub of communications” among executives. Many of us probably did not see that coming. When this is the new reality, how can CIOs become the “hubs of communication” in their organizations? All eyes are on the CIO, as the C-suite looks for a connection between the realm of business possibilities and new capabilities, defined and enabled by the power of IT.

The following are three ways that the C-suite is looking for the CIO to deliver information to the C-suite. Follow these principles to ensure that your communication is compelling, concise, and clear.

1. Talk to me in my language

IT to value

I once heard someone describe IT and the business as needing a “babel fish” to translate between them. (If you aren’t familiar with the analogy, a babel fish is a fictitious animal that translates languages in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.) An effective translator will understand the speeds and feeds of technology and represent them in terms of business value.

We’ve all heard that IT must become an enabler of business outcomes. But there’s one major obstacle that gets in the way: establishing the common language of business value.  As an IT leader, you are in a unique position to understand the best technology to enable your organization. The ability to streamline conversations to one “language” centered on business value requires an understanding of the priorities of each executive sitting around the table.

What does success look like for the CFO? What about the CMO and IT leaders? Establish this understanding and the conversations about the implementation and success of the investment will rise in relevancy.  

2. Show me in creative and clear ways

cio graphic 2

Most writing classes will teach that the best writing occurs when the author “shows” the reader, rather than “tells” the reader. The same principle can be applied to conversations with internal stakeholders about value. Show the value in creative, clear ways, rather than telling the audience about its features or intended success.

With a focus on how the technology is going to enable the business, the door is opened to discuss the impact of the technology in categories. Each category can quantify the value—from areas of benefit that the business will gain based on the solution (e.g. increased employee engagement, higher productivity, and greater customer trust).

Other areas of value, however, may not be best represented by numbers. In these situations, creative displays that communicate the value can be integrated in the conversation. For example, if you are trying to convey an area of value such as the number of lives saved by a certain technology, the best way to do so may be through a visual representation.

For example, one healthcare company recently quantified the lives it saved as a result of a new solution — something that certainly involves unique value beyond numbers. To do so, the company used an illustration to show increased happiness, satisfaction, and improved quality of life in its patients. The value of a higher quality of living can only be fully shown through additional logic, beyond numbers. 

3. Outline the plan going forward  

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Identify a long term, projected vision for the proposed investment by outlining a roadmap of future work. Determine what progress should be made in three months, six months, and one year. How will KPIs across value milestones be identified and measured? How much value should be realized incrementally each step of the way? What will be expected of each stakeholder in the long term?

Share your insight

What practical ways have you effectively established a “common language” with fellow executives?

How do you deliver insight to the C-suite in new, creative ways to inspire relevant conversations about business value?