How IT can still influence LOB tech spend in the digital era

The art of no: CIOs no longer control all their company’s technology spend. Here’s how to stop your business colleagues from making poor choices — without damaging IT-business relations.

How CIOs can influence LOB tech spend in the digital era

A newly hired CIO arrived at a $500-million consumer products company. He was surprised by what he found. “There wasn’t a standard way of evaluating and approving and managing technology,” recalls Tres Roeder, project management author, speaker, and consultant, who worked with that new CIO.

The CIO set out to do the logical thing: Evaluate the various tools for serving the business units’ needs, select the best, most robust, and most secure of them, and then standardize on those across the company. There was only one problem — the business units refused to comply. “The individual business unit heads did not want to give up the control that they had,” Roeder says. “They could pick the project management tool they wanted or the document repository they wanted. They didn’t want the CIO telling them what they could and couldn’t do.”

It’s a situation CIOs and other IT leaders find themselves facing more and more often. Years ago, funding for technology was overseen by an organization’s IT department. “There was a committee of executives, typically,” says Kurt Underwood, managing director at consulting firm Protiviti. “There would be initiatives that didn’t make it to the top of the list, ones that weren’t as strategic and so didn’t get funding. The governance was usually an open process, but it allowed for a dividing line: ‘Here’s what we’re going to work on over the next 18 months, and what we’re not.’”

That’s ancient history in most of the corporate world. Today, Underwood notes, most anything a business unit might need can be provisioned from the cloud, without involving IT. “Executives are looking at initiatives where timeliness is important. They’re looking for something this quarter — they’re not interested in a long-term process that will involve consultants to plan a project that will then take 18 months to complete,” Underwood says.

That impatience with traditional IT timelines, and IT standards and rules, led to what used to be called “shadow IT.” But these days, most non-IT technology is no longer hiding in the shadows. As at the company where Roeder consulted, business department leaders now have the budget and the ability to buy whatever technology tools they choose, and they don’t much care who knows it. Meantime, preventing data breaches, malware, hacking, outages, and other security, availability, or compliance failures remains IT’s responsibility, whether it controls technology purchases or not.

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