CIOs have to stop thinking of IT transparency as an elusive target
Few IT topics have the impact with business executives that IT transparency has. They long for IT openness, clear communication, and accountability. Unfortunately for non-IT executives, this is rarely their reality.Research consistently underscores executive dissatisfaction with IT’s ability to collaborate on strategy, execute on projects, and spend appropriately.
Conversely, for IT leaders, the transparency conversation is routinely one-sided. Executives are not well equipped to understand their IT organizations, even when IT tries to explain things, and even fewer take the time to try and understand it on their own.
This is largely due to the fact that the majority of seasoned executive careers evolved in the pre-digital era. Board directors are now averaging 63 years of age. This group of executives was weaned on the long-standing functions of sales, finance, and HR. Understandably, many of them just aren’t comfortable with IT. It’s no wonder there is a disconnect.
The digital age is new to the party and is evolving at a dizzying pace. The explosion of social media, the newly arrived age-of-the-customer, and cloud computing mean that even IT experts themselves are hard-pressed to keep up, let alone non-IT executives. Nowadays IT leaders commonly hear executives say, “I don’t get IT. I don’t know what they do and I am not sure what they are working on.” The conundrum for IT leaders is that executives and non-IT professionals think the transparency burden should rest solely on the broad, and often misunderstood, shoulders of IT.
It Takes Two to Tango
The truth is that, like in any relationship, when the two sides are at odds it takes collaboration and understanding to make effective inroads. IT organizations have been content to sit on their side of the leadership chasm waiting for executives to come across. And executives haven’t done their part either. Most have a vague idea things have recently changed, but don’t really try to understand the nuts and bolts of the new reality: that every company is now a technology company, no matter their product or service. Customers have more influence over price, brand, and engagement than ever before.
To survive and thrive in this hyperchanging marketplace, IT and executive teams have to shift from IT transparency as an elusive target and instead, make it a business centric core competency.
Don’t Wait – Reach Across the Chasm Now
Waiting for the executive teams to wake up and suddenly “get IT” is not the answer. Instead, IT has to take the first step and become regarded for its business knowledge so that it is viewed as a natural part of the business. The most effective method to accomplish this elusive goal is to establish an IT Business Partner Role (or Business Relationship Management - BRM) in your IT organization.
These bi-lingual IT and business experts create real transparency by closing the gap between IT and executive teams. In IT Business Partnerships: A Field Guide, I share pragmatic methods on how to get such a program up and running successfully. IT Business Partners understand the connection between strategy and tactics and ensure that the right investments are the predominant focus of IT investment portfolios. One of their chief responsibilities is to spend time with external customers and bring a clear and transparent picture of the investments needed to make it easier for customers to do business with their company.
Think, Act, and Achieve Together
There are companies that understand why and how IT is a vital business unit and the key to overall success. Transparency is achieved when IT and business executives become converged. Such companies operate in an environment where IT and executive relationships are symbiotic and they are vastly more successful than their competitors. These converged IT and business leaders are intertwined; they think, act, and achieve together.
1. When Organizations Think Together – ITs Role in the Company is Transparent
Converged organizations understand that when IT is proactively involved in company strategy, business results improve. IT involvement isn’t an afterthought for these forward looking companies. They see that the accelerating pace of change has outgrown the concept of mere IT/business alignment, and been replaced by the need for true IT/Business convergence. They welcome and expect IT Business Partners to meet with external customers and collaborate transparently on shaping technology investments that move the needle on strategy. The reward is that when IT shapes strategy this way, companies are four times more likely to achieve revenue and profit targets.1
2. When Companies Act Together – Technology Investments are Transparent
Converged organizations hold BRMs accountable for teaching employees what their role is when requesting projects. They ensure that transparency is baked into the investment process. Business colleagues are taught to bring a pitch for top-line or bottom-line benefits to the investment table and that their ideas will be weighed against all other investment options clamoring for resources.
Revealing how investment decisions are made creates company-wide transparency and trust. I use a 5-scale system (Figure 1, below) to weigh investments across six business categories. With prospective investments scored, the cream floats to the top. This prioritized list serves as a natural framework for executive team investment discussions. Talk about transparency!
Figure 1: Investment Scoring Matrix
3. When Companies Achieve Together – IT Is No Longer Viewed as a Mysterious Chest of Secrets
Transparency happens when executives routinely review investment scoring results and share investment decisions company-wide. This solidifies investment transparency and tamps down the “last-loudest-voice” syndrome that plagues non-converged companies. They make the investment portfolio visible to all employees by sharing project charters, schedules, issues, budgets, and more on the company Intranet.
IT Transparency is not Elusive
True transparency is not an elusive target: It is attainable and crucial. IT leaders must take the first step to reach across the leadership chasm. Start by implementing an IT Business Partner/BRM role focused on identifying ways to fill the business technology investment portfolio with needle-moving solutions that make it easier for customers to do business with you. Take it one step further and teach end-users their role in requesting projects, share the results of investment decisions, and make the active investment portfolio easy to access. When these things are done in concert, organizations achieve convergence and reach the pinnacle of transparency that IT leaders and business executives both crave.
1 Research conducted by PWC.