by Maryfran Johnson

Why CIOs Detest the Phrase “IT and the Business”

Nov 02, 20113 mins
Business IT Alignment

CIO magazine editor in chief Maryfran Johnson discusses our Nov. 15 cover story and why it’s time to dump that polarizing phrase and make IT and business people equal partners.

I know a lot of CIOs who detest the phrase “IT and the business,” implying as it does that IT is a thing apart, a foreign particle in the company body. As someone who believes in the power of language, I’m with them. I cringe to think how often we fall victim to that polarizing phrase in the pages of CIO.

Yet however much we wish business people would see their IT colleagues as equal partners and peers, we know they generally don’t. Far too many companies feel about IT the way Red Robin Gourmet Burgers once did. When CIO Chris Laping joined the restaurant chain four years ago, “No one would talk to IT unless their mouse wasn’t working.”

Like the other CIOs profiled in our cover story (“How CIOs Build Bridges With Other C-Level Execs”), Laping turned around IT’s reputation and gradually improved the working relationships and trust levels with the rest of the business. IT projects got measured with business metrics instead of technical ones. Creating better customer experiences became more important to IT staffers than creating new systems. The distinction between IT and the business started to blur.

“My current and ultimate goal is that there is absolutely no distinction between IT and the business,” says CIO Leslie Jones of Motorola Solutions. “We’re in the business; our field just happens to be IT.”

As you read through the story, you’ll notice that no rocket science was necessary, though everyone had complex problems to solve before the IT-business relationship turned a corner. Even if the IT group sees itself as a strategic player, “the proof is ultimately whether the rest of the company feels the same way,” notes writer Diane Frank, editorial manager for our CIO Executive Council.

The experiences of the CIOs profiled—including those of Toyota Motor Sales, Hilton Worldwide, Red Robin, First Data and Motorola Solutions—also demonstrate some timeless truths about leadership: Take the time to build trust and credibility. Communicate at any and every opportunity. Manage and nurture relationships across the company.

“In my world, the way you build trust is by making promises and ­keeping promises—repeatedly—and then there’s the opportunity to build a deeper relationship,” says CIO Robert Webb of Hilton.

That advice certainly applies to any company. How is it working in yours?

Maryfran Johnson is the editor in chief of CIO Magazine & Events. Email her at