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If you’re like most CIOs, you want to help the business succeed while increasing the credibility of IT—often easier said than done.
But there are things you can do to make the business stand up and take notice of what you’re trying to accomplish.
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IT TechNewsDaily asked three IT managers to tell us how they get their companies to pay attention and have a little respect for the often-underappreciated-and-underfunded IT team.
Outlining the future
Mitch Davis, CIO of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, says his efforts start with a five-year plan that anticipates IT costs and spending.
“They’re thinking about the business and what the business needs to do and they have all these other contributing factors,” he said. “But as long as they can factor in the cost of a new data center or a software upgrade or something like that they when they think of budget, they won’t be surprised when $2-million comes in because you have to be IPV6-compliant. It’s a very brief overview of what’s going to happen over the next five years. I try to put a number to everything and then I distribute it widely.”
Davis has also created an advisory board of faculty and students to discuss IT needs and motivate the executives to get things done.
“The board is very interested and engaged and when something becomes an agenda item for them, they make it an issue and that brings it more to the forefront than you could yourself,” he said.
Additionally, when Davis notices that something in a particular department needs to be upgraded he goes out and talks to the community before he even applies for funding.
“I get buy-in and I get enough people to say, ‘we really like it’ and it validates for the business that you really do need it,” he said.
Then there are times when Davis just goes to the executives and says, “Trust me. I need a check for this amount of money. Trust me it’s going to mean something to us in a year … as long as you’ve done a good job in the past, they’ll do it.”
For Davis, it comes down: If everything you’ve done comes in on time and under budget, does what it’s supposed to do, doesn’t cost any more money—Davis also tries to keep maintenance costs down—then when you go to the CEO and the finance people and say “trust me” they will, with a little convincing.
“You’ve earned the credibility to sit at the table and say ‘trust me it’s going to make a big deal in a year but we need to do it now because it’s going to hit and rather than being caught by a tsumani, we’ll be set,'” he said.
Davis said you have to be a strong advocate but you also have to be sure that you pay attention to the client’s needs, which means creating an environment that’s change-positive.
“So think of an organization like Microsoft—when it releases a new operating system, not that many people line up in stores to buy it,” he said. “But Apple can produce a broken phone and people line up for miles to get it.”
So you want to be more like Apple and less like Microsoft, he said. You want people to look forward to what you’re delivering rather than be resistant to it, and that creates an organization that wants to move forward rather than look back. The business will trust in what you’re doing and that way when you come up with an idea , everybody is looking at it in a positive way rather than a negative way, Davis said. And there will be very little resistance in the organization.
“They’re thinking postitive and they think they’re part of the project and they try to make it work for them,” he said. “And that makes an organization more agile.”
Davis said if you want to get things to change for the better, it’s important to show your business counterparts the inefficiency of your current business processes.
“For example, I wanted to do a cloud-based HR system so I did a videotape of the way we went about hiring someone and paying them,” he said.
Davis said he talked to all the employees about their roles and jobs, then his staff made an eight-minute video about the HR process to show to the president and the trustees.
“The president lasted about three minutes and said OK and the trustees lasted about five minutes and said OK,” he said. “They couldn’t believe things were done that way and I told them there were a lot of processes like that. So document the business procesess for the finance department then show them how to streamline things and that will get you buy-in for that new software system you want.”
Stay ahead of the rest of the team
Nilesh Chandra, principal consultant at PA Consulting Group, a management-and-IT consulting and technology firm, said there are basically two things CIOs should be doing. One is to get in front and center of the business strategy.
“By that I mean not just understand what the business strategy is and understand elements of it, but also proactively come up with technology solutions to support it, and to help make the business strategy a reality,” he said. “If you explain to the business that you are helping to address their needs, which are A, B, C, then it makes so much more sense.”
The second thing is to avoid the IT tendency for getting caught up in technology and jargon, and instead focus on business value, Chandra said.
“An example could be, we need to replace a legacy system. Instead of saying, ‘We have dated systems that need to be replaced’ because no CEO would see the economic rationale right away, you should say, ‘Our business is growing, we are not able to meet future needs without replacing our systems.’ Or you could say, ‘Performance is slow, and users can feel it.’ Couch everything from a business user’s prospective, rather than the technology.”
Those are the two main things CIOs can do to make sure the business listens to them, he said.
“It also enables a partnership between technology and the business,” Chandra said. “So IT is perceived not just as a provider of the service, but as a technology partner to help address whatever challenges the business is facing.”
Speak the language
Marc Schiller, an IT strategist and management consultant as well as the author of “The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders,” agreed that IT leaders can make the journey from the basement to the boardroom by speaking in language and terms that are meaningful to the people they are trying to influence. To the business person, technical and functional justifications are often meaningless.
So that means telling the business users what’s in it for them—in language that speaks to them. But to do that you first have to gather information from the angle of what’s in it for those business users, Schiller said.
The lesson: You have to avoid your natural tendency to communicate in technical and functional terms. As Schiller said, it’s your job to translate your professional knowledge and insights into terms that speak to the business.
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