Re-positioning your IT organization as a true business peer starts with you and your teams, and then comes the rest of the C-suite.

Every CIO wants to be considered a business leader by other company executives. But for many of us this is an elusive goal, fraught with obstacles from around the company and even within our own IT organizations. I’ve been on this journey for nearly forty-years now. I’ve written extensively about this challenge and have spent my coaching career helping IT leaders improve themselves so they can go on to have meaningful business impacts in their companies.

It isn’t easy to change the long-held perception by non-IT executives and business leaders alike that IT is a mere service provider. And, that opinion frequently emanates from outside of company walls as well. Far too many industry analysts today, habitually refer to “aligning IT to the business” and they refer to internal departments as “IT’s customers”. IT leaders are guilty of the same bad language habits. To make a change we have to forge a new path forward by ditching the old school habits that continually place IT outside the business.

Changed Perceptions of IT

In a recent Heller Report post, the The IT Transformation Trifecta, I wrote about the need for change in all leaders – and not just with IT leaders. I will say however, that as an IT leader, change starts with you. Experience shows that when you act like a leader you will begin to be perceived as one, and more importantly, you begin to think like one.

Once you are on the right path, you must ensure that your teams are too. Nothing derails an IT transformation more quickly than an IT team that stays anchored in the past. You have to show your IT organization just how much they can impact real business results by driving customer engagement. 

And finally, it isn’t enough to work on IT’s perception; you must help the others in the C-suite see IT as a business unit. Many C-suite executives want more from IT but just don’t know where to turn for help. They hire chief digital officers, chief data officers, or they toss out the current CIO in favor of someone new. You can avoid all of this disruption by helping your C-suite peers see how IT can and should drive business results and customer engagement through the projects your team takes on.

Welcome to the Technology Revolution

There is something profoundly different today versus 20 years ago when I began my own IT transformation. Today, businesses around the globe are experiencing change at rates never seen before. It is fueled by a technology revolution that gives more power to consumers. Their voices are stronger, and they influence price, brand, terms, and expectations in ways never before contemplated. Social media networks and mobile devices are at the root of the revolution.

C-suite executives aren’t always sure where to turn in these uncertain times. Where is the next competitor coming from? What should the strategy be? What should the organization look like? Which skills will the company need to compete? The list goes on. Yet when it comes to change, for many C-suite executives IT transformation doesn’t include scrutinizing their own performance, or that of their executive teams in the conversation. When I talk to CIOs and CEOs, similar themes emerge:

  • CEOs don’t want to change (or don’t think they have to – they expect IT to change)
  • They don’t understand IT; much less how to leverage IT
  • They don’t have an IT executive that thinks like a business leader
  • They don’t naturally think of IT as a business unit
  • They don’t set business goals for IT

Every Company is a Technology Company

The challenge is to show executives just how impactful technology can be in shaping go-to-market strategies and customer journeys. In fact, technology does more to shape customer engagement than just about any other investment they can make. It is just that simple. Technology is no longer simply the dial-tone, reporting solutions, and ERP systems. In today’s socially powered marketplace, the customer experience is the brand. Systems of engagement determine customer satisfaction and their loyalty to your company’s products and services.

This means that today, all companies are technology companies at heart, regardless of their products or services.

There are steps you can take to help your teams and the C-suite view IT differently. I call this the evolution from IT leader to BT (business technology) leader. Think of IT as having three layers; the dial-tone layer, the business operations layer, and the external customer layer.

  1. Dial-tone Layer - Clearly every company needs their phone system and email system to work properly: operations depend on them. However, they don’t help your company differentiate themselves in the marketplace. You’ll never hear, “I love your phone system and that is why I buy products from your company!” In today’s world, there are many viable top-notch providers that can deliver these services to your company. Consider outsourcing as much as you can at this level but don’t forget, you are still accountable for delivering these services reliably day in and day out.
  2. Business Operations Layer – At this layer, identify ways you can help supply chain teams, sales teams, or marketing teams meet their strategic goals. Take on projects that deliver results and your team will be asked to do more. When IT helps drive business operations goals at this layer, trust is established and it’s easier for IT to make the leap to external customers- where the real business results magic happens. Focus your Business Relationship Managers on driving results at the business operations layer and they will get permission to play with external customers.
  3. External Customer Layer – When IT gets immersed in external customer environments, they hear and see firsthand the pain points customers have when engaging with your company. Through this lens, Business Relationship Managers can offer solutions to smooth over the bumps, improve customer engagement and make real business improvement. This is where compelling business results occur. In the companies I have worked for, we improved our bottom-line and drove more revenue as a result of the initiatives stemming from our firsthand customer knowledge. The key is to get your BRMs out in the field as much as possible. 


Act Like Business Leaders

Re-positioning your IT organization as a true business peer is daunting. The transformation starts with you and your teams. Once you start acting like business leaders, you’ll hear new stories from around the company about IT as a real business contributor and as a true business colleague.

Start the momentum by making sure business operations are solid and consistently delivered. Consider outsourcing critical but non-differentiating operational functions to trusted partners. Spend time helping business teams meet their goals and build trust and confidence in IT as a business peer.

And finally, get your teams out in the field to see customer pain points firsthand. Trust me, they will find obstacles to overcome with the right process and technology investments. Nothing drives the point home about IT “being the business” more than driving higher levels of customer engagement with your company. Good luck on your journey.


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