Changing the CIO conversation from technology to business

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For many years, traditional IT thinking has served the IT function well. Companies have prospered from both the technological advances and consequent business improvements. Historically, the conversation typically centered on some form of technology. It could have been about infrastructure (data centers, servers, storage, network) or applications (language, platform, architectures) or both.

Today, we are seeing a marked shift in the conversations happening with the CIO. Instead of talking about the latest bell-and-whistle, it is increasingly more apt to involve topics about business enablement and growth. The changes did not happen overnight. For any IT leader, it takes time to evolve the conversation. Not only does the IT leader need to evolve, but so does their team and fellow business leaders. Almost two years ago, I wrote about the evolution of these relationships in Transforming IT Requires a Three-Legged Race.

Starting the journey

For the vast majority of IT leaders, the process is not an end-state, but rather a journey about evolution that has yet to start in earnest. For many I have spoken with, there is an interest, but not a clear path in which to take.

This is where an outside perspective is helpful. It may come from mentors, advisors or peers. It needs to come from someone that is trusted and objective. This is key, as the change itself will touch the ethos of the IT leader.

The assessment

Taking a holistic assessment of the situation is critical here. It requires a solid review of the IT leadership, organizational ability, process state and technological situational analysis. The context for the assessment is back to the core business strategy and objectives.

Specific areas of change are items that clearly are not strategic or differentiating to support the company’s strategy and objectives. A significant challenge for IT organizations will be: Just because you can manage it, does not mean you should manage it.

Quite often, IT organizations get too far into the weeds and loose sight of the bigger picture. To fellow business leaders, this is often perceived as a disconnect between IT & Line of Business (LoB) leaders. It essentially alienates IT leaders and creates challenges to fostering stronger bonds between the same leaders.

Never lose sight of the business

It is no longer adequate for the CIO to be the only IT leader familiar with the company’s strategy and objectives. Any IT leader today needs to fully understand the ecosystem of how the company makes and spends money. Without this clarity, the leader lacks the context in which to make healthy, business-centric decisions.

The converse is an IT leader that is well familiar with the business perspective as outlined above. This IT leader will gain greater respect amongst their business colleagues. They will also have the context in which to understand which decisions are most important.

Kicking technology to the curb

So, is IT really getting out of the technology business? No! Rather, think of it as an opportunity to focus. Focus on what is important and what is not. What is strategic for the company and what is not? Is moving to a cloud-centric model the most important thing right now? What about shifting to a container-based application architecture model? Maybe. Maybe not. There are many areas of ripe, low hanging fruit to be picked. And just as with fruit, the degree of ripeness will change over time. You do not want to pick spoiled fruit. Nor do you want to pick it too soon.

One area of great interest these days is in the data center. I wrote about this in detail with CIOs are getting out of the Data Center business. It is not the only area, but it is one of many areas to start evaluating.

The connection between technology divestiture and business

By assessing which areas are not strategic and divesting those area, it provides IT with greater focus and the ability to apply resources to more strategic functions. Imagine if those resources were redeployed to provide greater value to the company strategy and business objectives. By divesting non-strategic areas, it frees up the ability to move into other areas and conversations.

By changing the model and using business as the context, it changes the tone, tenor and impact in which IT can have for a company. The changes will not happen overnight. The evolution of moving from technology to business discussions takes vision, perseverance, and a strong internal drive toward change.

The upside is a change in culture that is both invigorating and liberating. It is also a model that supports the dynamic changes required for today’s leading organizations.

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