Monday, April 15, 2013

CIOs: Are You at C-Table or Board Room

CIOs have needed to both convince and deliver the alternative view of IT being a profit enabler.

Some CIOs complained they are never ever involved in the C-level discussions or boardroom conversation. Some important things have happened and CIOs have not been involved in the discussions. Getting to the C-table is a challenge, how to overcome it?

1. How Much IT Contributes to Bottom Line & Top Line Growth 

 At the end of the day, why is IT not part of the inner circle? Could it be that it is seen as a cost and not a strategic investment? Most IT practitioners that have spent a certain time in this field intrinsically know that some are more adept at morphing their technology to better align it with the demands of the corporation. IT should well refine its reputation as a value center than cost center:

  • Deliver Vision: CIOs need to have the capabilities to deliver the vision for their business, industry and even business eco-system, as more often than not, IT is the game-changer for business development or disruptive innovation, IT plays a critical role in taking the organization to the next level of maturity. CIOs also need to wear multiple hats both as the business strategist and technology visionary, customer champion and talent master. 
  • How do you measure IT? A way to translate the prosaic tasks of keeping the machine humming into the indispensable, "couldn't do without it," piece of the puzzle that makes the business grow. How to link the growth of the companies in relation to their technology investments. In the end, it’s not about how much IT costs, it’s about how much IT is contributing to the bottom line either by increased sales or increased agility in adapting the changing business processes. Such as IT Investment vs. Business profitability benchmark, how do you bridge the soft-analysis (such as value chain, gap, scenario. even PEST & SWOT, etc) with the hard data to deliver further IT perspectives. 
  • Demystify IT Investment Puzzle: The link remains processes or transactions of interest to the business folks where they need to use or leverage IT systems designed and tailored for the need. Yet voices for "off-technology" simplification speak volumes on the shallow investment in technology at the level of leadership vision. Often times the business crowd wrongly equate IT solutions with concerns of expensive technical difficulties and the IT crowd builds more out of its own know-how than the need of the business client - thereby not serving its wish to earn that seat at the table. Until each and both parties transcend to a genuine hope and belief in one another, it will remain a case of "we'll call the helpdesk if we need them." 

2. How to Communicate Right at C-Table 

IT is initially considered as the support function and a Cost Center and treated accordingly. To really be considered an equal with other board directors. CIOs have needed to both convince and deliver the alternative view of IT being a Profit Enabler and a Value Enhancer. Depending on the start point and history, this can be a large hill to climb but taken in steps it really can work.

  • The key is language: CIOs need to talk about commercial outcomes, not technical throughput; be seen to be leveraging current assets before seeking latest techie toys; have IT team leaders partner with and even embed themselves in business functions so they can ensure the related folks understand the commercial endpoint of the work rather than it being an abstract set of code. In short IT leaders need to talk like and actually deliver as business managers. 
  •  Keep the focus on IT value proposition: The value proposition for the CIO/IT Director needs to focus on the needs of the Business Decision Makers, at a later stage, incorporating the needs of both business and technology decision-makers. Until CIOs think, talk, and act commercially rather than technically, they will remain strangers in a strange land, so CIOs must take the time and effort to sway stakeholders and of course selves towards IT being a true business goal ENABLING asset, not just a "supporting" function. Enablers get integrated into the game - supporters get to watch from the bleachers. 
  • Communicate well on IT Cost-Effectiveness: The other focus CIOs should have is: Cost-effectiveness, also communicate it clearly by having a seat at the table. A detailed breakdown of the costs is also very revealing as C level executives usually only see summary level costs. The detailed cost breakdowns can lead to better strategic IT investment decisions, that are empirically based. The discussion makes it clearer what the benefits of the IT investments are. 
  • Questioning: Either at C-Table or Board Room, the most powerful tool of a senior leader is the capacity to ask good questions. That is not the act of rubber stamping! Appreciates that the value of alternative perspectives and insights which say nothing of not trusting - simply looking from a different stance, and asking different questions. 
CIOs need to have a seat at C-table, as IT is a strategic imperative in any forward-looking organizations today, IT strategy is an integral component of business strategy and IT governance is converging with business governance. However, CIOs should become more confident and be trusted to present the case on commercial merits.   


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