CIO.com had an interesting article today regarding how IT is viewed in the corporate environment by the CFO, whom IT typically falls under. Not surprisingly (to me), the picture is not too rosyÂ…
Here is a direct quote from the article:
"According to the 2011 Gartner/FEI study, only about a quarter of the CFOs had confidence that their own IT organization "has the organizational and technical flexibility to respond to changing business priorities," or "is able to deliver against the enterprise/business unit strategy."
"Only 25% see the CIO as a key player in determining the business strategy," said Gartner analyst John Van Decker.
In addition, less than a quarter of the CFOs felt the IT department "delivers the technology innovation needed by the business," or that it "has the right mix of skilled people to meet business needs." And in the final act of disdain, only 18% of the CFOs said they thought "our IT service levels meet or exceed business expectations."
Now, let's take this down a notch into the world of small business. Business owners and decision makers often don't trust IT, and the above quote would summarize what I have heard time and again from smaller businesses too. The problem is that internal IT groups tend to fall into certain traps over and over again.
The first trap is the technology trap. IT leaders come up through IT departments. They LOVE technology. Unfortunately, they often forget that IT is NOT ABOUT TECHNOLOGY any more than home building is about hammers. IT is about meeting business needs with a technology tool set. The tools are NOT front and center, the business opportunity is. Here is a hint - as a business person, I don't care about the spec. I don't care about how cool it is. I don't care about how many virtual machines it can run. Sorry. I don't. What I do care about is how any particular solution can be directly tied to ensuring that my business remains productive. That my technology supports my business plans. That my IT investment is relevant to supporting my business needs. I want happy, productive and supported employees. I want a business that runs smoothly.
The second trap is empire building. How many times have I heard 'I need to hire another staff member because we don't have such and such key skills in house'? Frankly, I don't want to chase every changing skill requirements with full time employees. Nor do I revel in the knowledge that my IT staff is 150% utilized 3 times per year, but 30% utilized the rest. Most businesses would NEVER hire an in house lawyer for contracts, and another for HR law, and another for intellectual property law. That would be insane, right? While we know we may need each of those skills, and need them badly at some point, we don't hire them to sit around until we need them, we find a firm with the breadth of experience we need and have them on retainer. Pay for what you need when you need it. So, why do we think differently about IT?
It is not a hopeless battle, however. In reality, CIOs (or any IT manager) simply need to step back and remember that they are business support, not technology support. They need to understand that the fundamental job of IT is to provide the most efficient solution to business problems available. Not the coolest. Not the most cutting edge. The most efficient. Value can only be determined in IT by understanding the needs of the business and aligning the cost of the solution and the nature of the solution with the overall culture and direction of the business. Get better at that. Put the focus on that. Talk in terms of the outcomes of projects, not the technology involved in them. Talk in terms of return on investment, and be honest about it. Remember that IT is a service organization, and that no one outside of IT likely cares deeply about the technology. I know, it hurts. They care about the outcomes though, and if you focus on that, you will build value, and you will build trust.
Lacking trust between IT and business decision makers is a terrible thing for everyone. I certainly keep this front and center when working with my team and setting a corporate culture. We talk endlessly about our mission of creating happy, productive and supported customers. It was strange at first, to run an IT services company and NOT talk about technology, not talk about us and our capabilities, but to talk about the ultimate desired outcomes our customers have in simple terms. It is transformational in fact. Because, we understand that at the end of the day, the one thing we can agree on is that we all want to experienceÂ…