You Have The IT Department You Deserve

Author

Peter High, Contributor

May 23, 2015

Having worked with dozens of IT departments at corporations around the world, I am constantly struck by how often I will speak to a CEO or a CFO to whom the chief information officer reports, and find that they are frustrated with the performance of the IT leader and his or her team.  What comes next is often a litany of complaints, the substance of which differs depending on the company, the CIO, and the CEO or CFO. There are some common themes however:

  • - The CIO does not think strategically, and does not engage the rest of the organization in a strategic manner
  • - The CIO is not cutting costs of IT as much as he or she should
  • - There are concerns about the security stance of the enterprise
  • - There is a perception that outsourced partners would be better suited to run most of what IT currently does

These are just four examples of a far more extensive list of complaints that I hear.  I should say that upgrading and validating IT’s value is the job of the CIO, and so primary responsibility rests with the IT leadership team to improve IT’s image, but it takes two to tango. IT does not operate in a vacuum, and more often than not, I find that most companies have the IT departments they deserve.  That is to say, if a company truly values IT, and wishes to engage the IT leadership team in the strategy setting process, they need an IT leader who is a member of the executive team, optimally reporting to the CEO.  Moreover, the divisions of the company need to formulate plans in a way that allow IT to drive greater value.

Too often, different divisions of the company formulate their plans in different ways.  One division will produce a phone book-sized plan.  Another will produce a pamphlet version of a strategy.  A third division might rely on tribal knowledge and conversation rather than documented plans. The problem with this diverse approach to strategy is that it sets up the IT leadership team for failure.

As I note in my new book, Implementing World Class IT Strategy, IT leaders must work with the divisions of the company to ensure that plans are documented with a common level of clarity and granularity in order to ensure that they have a solid understanding of the true priorities of each executive. In that way, IT can be positioned not only to invest in the areas of greatest importance and need, but IT leaders can be positioned to understand where there are emerging opportunities or threats in multiple plans before the leaders who have authored them might even know that these commonalities exist.  IT leaders ought to help drive these forward.

I recently spoke with Mark Sunday, who for over nine years has been the CIO of Oracle. He shares the notion that companies have the IT they deserve.  The reporting relationship, the openness with IT, and the degree to which technology is viewed as strategic all play into how successfully IT is set up to drive high levels of value, both top and bottom line, to the enterprise. As Sunday explains, “IT by itself can’t make the company go from good to great, but now, more than any time in the past, a winning strategy is dependent on information technology.  Realizing that opportunity starts at the top.” Put a different way, IT needs to breathe life into every division of the company, as well as the enterprise.

What do IT leaders need to do in order to improve IT’s performance and its image?

  1. Ensure that the basics of IT are operating flawlessly
    • If people do not have consistent and flawless access to data and to the technological tools they need on a daily basis, IT will not have the credibility to become more strategic
    • IT must simplify its portfolio. This means reducing the number of solutions, vendors, and processes wherever possible. It means adopting cloud technologies that scale more easily. It also means ensuring that IT has a phenomenal execution capability, leveraging agile methods to an increasing extent.
    • IT should have a strong security capability, assuming that is part of the IT leadership team’s responsibilities. IT leaders must take preventive measures to ensure that data is not taken, but it also needs excellent plans should a breach occur.
  2. Pay attention to the metrics that the CEO and the board hold dear
    • Traditional IT metrics such as on-time and on-budget delivery and system uptime remain critical, but they are foundational.  IT must work to deliver top and bottom line impact to a greater extent, and help drive initiatives that will move the dials on the CEO’s scorecard.
  3. Market IT’s successes
    • IT has not generally been good at marketing what it does well.  As a result, IT is often noticed most when things go wrong, but not recognized at all when things go right. It is up to IT to do a better job of proving its value through hard data. That which gets measured gets done, after all, and IT should be transparent on where and how it is improving, optimally by demonstrating value achieved.
  4. Focus on external customers and customer experience
    • I have noted before that when you hear an IT leader talk about “customers,” he or she is quite likely to be referring to colleagues.  IT needs to become more cognizant of the true customers who provide the company with its revenues.  How does IT deliver better customer experience?
    • As more customers interact with the companies with which they do business digitally, IT should have a leadership role in improving the digital experience. This requires that IT have touch points with the customers, whether through sales visits, help desk calls, store/branch/outlet visits, and the like.

IT leaders who successfully implement these steps but are not invited to strategy meetings or treated as true partners and peers to the rest of the leadership team should take this as a sign to move on to a new opportunity.  It will be a solid indication that the company does not deserve you.

Peter High is President of Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. His latest book, Implementing World Class IT Strategy, has just been released by Wiley Press/Jossey-Bass. He is also the author of World Class IT: Why Businesses Succeed When IT Triumphs. Peter moderates the Forum on World Class IT podcast series. Follow him on Twitter @WorldClassIT.

This article was written by Peter High from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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