Flipping the script: Business leaders must learn the language of IT

At a time when seemingly every company is becoming a technology company, experts say it’s incumbent on the business to learn about the technologies shaping their digital transformations.

Flipping the script: Business leaders must learn the language of IT

During a Walmart leadership meeting in 2017, CIO Clay Johnson witnessed a seminal moment in IT-business relations. When someone suggested making the technical terms of the retailer’s IT strategy more accessible for business line leaders, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said something novel.

He said, “Business people need to start speaking the language of technology,” Johnson said recently on a panel at the 2018 Forbes CIO Summit. “Hearing that was a pleasant surprise."

Most CIOs today would agree. For the past decade, CIO success has been defined by being able to “speak the language of the business,” as it has been incumbent on tech leaders to understand the corporate strategy and empower business leaders with the right technologies to execute on that strategy. CIOs have struggled to explain tech initiatives through the lens of business strategy, rather than discuss the technology itself, as CEOs thus far haven’t had to care nor know what, say, Hadoop is.

Times have changed, and forward-looking executives such as McMillon want their business leaders to understand concepts such as agile and DevOps, which are core to the IT strategy Johnson has facilitated since joining Walmart in 2017. The thinking is: The more fluent your company as a whole is with technology, the less likely it will be disrupted by it.

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