Business First: IT Second

The position of the Chief Information Officer will probably never be more challenging than it is today, because we are witnessing the rebirth of an industry that never left infancy, and which also continues to evolve on a daily basis.

Just a few years ago they were the masters of the corporate domain. At the time, too little was known of information technology (IT) to dispute the claims and demands of the executives responsible for its proliferation, upkeep and advancement. Plus, the promise of greater profits produced by ever-increasing, computer-induced efficiencies gave continual rise to an unending string of investments and unchallenged budgets.

Unfortunately for most CIOs and their staff, those days are gone and unlikely to re-emerge. Software technology is now a part of everyday business life in the post-recession era. Technophobia is generally an element of the past and computer hardware and software systems are easier to install, maintain and learn. The amazement has vanished, with many institutions no longer viewing IT as a panacea, but a necessary expenditure like building repairs, office supplies and other administrative tasks.

Consequently, CIOs no longer wield the power they once possessed. Budgets are tighter. Results and operations are more intently scrutinized. Objectives have been changed from revenue generation to cost reduction and every budgetary dollar and staff member must be continually legitimized.

For many CIOs, the recession accompanied a crash course in business practices and maneuverability, as well as a wave of skepticism that enveloped the usefulness and benefits of technology in general. Unfortunately, over the past few years a great deal of investor money was wasted on technologies that either didn’t produce the promised results or never materialized at all. There are few that weren’t affected by NASDAQ’s decline and the dotcom marketplace meltdown.

To overcome this new stigma, CIOs must now join with their staff to better sell and promote the benefits provided by their services. This is the only way to successfully navigate the current business landscape within their own corporation, impress colleagues and, most importantly, obtain an ongoing flow of budgetary dollars. Here are some ways to help:

The CIO must understand the impact of the stock price on his daily business activities. There is an inherent disconnect between IT and financial objectives at a public company. As a result, the success of most large corporations is gauged daily by the rise or fall of the stock price. Like it or not, this is the way it is, which is not beneficial to CIOs and the efforts of their staffs since much of their work is behind the scenes and many new projects can take months, if not years, to reap any form of benefit. Unfortunately, this is a business reality that oftentimes conflicts with quarterly financial statements and the watchful eyes of shareholders and analysts alike.

CIOs must become better businesspeople within their own company. They must readily understand the business objectives of the organization and regularly communicate the positive effects of their services on the long- and short-term profitability of the company. They must also thoroughly grasp the pressures CEOs face daily from financial analysts, the board of directors and shareholders as well as the methods and language for articulating how technology investments can advance profitability and earnings per share.

Marketing matters. Each day, CIOs must ask the following: Are we effectively up-selling, cross-selling and marketing the value of our efforts to corporation executives, analysts, division leaders and fellow co-workers? Do our efforts adequately reflect and promote the brand identity of the company? If we are service-oriented, how do our efforts increase service capabilities and ultimately the company’s profit margin?

In order to establish credibility within their own company, your IT staff must speak and understand the language of in-house customers. They must also be prepared to converse regularly about their services and the positive impact provided to the company’s overall bottom line as well as each individual work group. There are few more powerful ways to earn the loyalty of the company’s business environment and the investment dollars it so often accompanies.

Think about your marketplace. How well do you know your company’s customers? What are their needs and how can your department better fulfill them? What is the competition doing to better serve this market? How is the market shifting? Will it change dramatically and how are you and your department helping the company realize and adapt to this change? If you don’t have the answers to these questions, find them quickly. Your future and the future of your department depends upon the changing dynamics of the industry you serve and the ways in which you are or are not meeting its demands.

Be proactive. Be aggressive. Formulate a plan, but be flexible to change. If nothing, the past few years have taught us that great highs can be rapidly replaced by equally great lows. Your ability to foresee the road ahead and navigate the inevitable bumps directly and undoubtedly coincides with your long-term standing with the company.

To succeed today, CIOs must be business mavens first and technologists second. The ongoing success and expansion of their efforts depends upon it.

About the Author

Bob has a long and successful track record in the use of communications technology to return measurable business outcomes and ROI. Bob started his career in the Telecommunications Industry Group of DEC working directly with Bell Labs on advanced network applications and has worked at NorTel and a Verizon software subsidiary. Currently Bob is CEO of Gold Mobile, focused on developing and implementing enterprise mobilization strategies across US, Europe, and Asia.

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