The head of the IT Management and Leadership Institute, Eric Bloom, explains the four critical factors of organizational clout, and how CIOs and their teams can earn more of it.
The more IT is respected and trusted by its business counterparts, the easier it is for the CIO and his or her senior team to drive business strategy and impact organizational profitability. This ‘IT organizational clout’ is built from a combination of four factors:
- IT delivery excellence
- CIO business savvy
- CIO’s influential power
- CEO/C-Suite engagement
1. IT delivery excellence
Delivery excellence is IT’s ability to support its business partners on four levels.
- Level 1 - Utility Provider: Internet access, email, online production systems, batch processing, etc.
- Level 2 - On-Demand Servicing: Desktop support, call-in application support, etc.
- Level 3 - General Contractor: Projects of all types either specifically requested by IT’s business partners or driven by IT on their behalf.
- Level 4 – Strategic Partner: Providing technical and business insights and advice that go beyond the technology realm into business-oriented opportunities and consequences.
Levels 1 and 2 are the table stakes. If you can’t keep your core systems operational and provide high quality user experience and support, then, as the IT leader/CIO, you will most likely be replaced due to lack of confidence in your ability to lead IT. An IT group in this condition has little to no organizational clout. As a result, business leaders will, where possible, look for cloud-only solutions without IT’s support or involvement, and if IT delivery is not improved, there is the real potential that large portions of it will be outsourced.
If Levels 1 and 2 are properly executed, then IT’s business involvement can move to Level 3, General Contractor. Here, business partners are comfortable working with the IT organization on project-based initiatives that enhance internal productivity, expand revenue opportunities, increase client engagement and provide business value. This has been IT’s traditional business role - to support previously defined business objectives. But this has not always come with a seat at the table where the business strategies are developed.
Level 4, IT as a strategic partner, can only be reached if levels 1, 2 and 3 are covered and properly executed in the eyes of your business partners. For example, if IT can’t properly deliver the implementation of a new CRM system, then the CIO will most likely not get invited to discussions about sales team productivity solutions by the VP of Sales.
However, becoming a Level 4 CIO and IT organization is more than just getting a seat at the strategic thinking table. It also requires a new mindset. IT executives at all levels must stop thinking of themselves as “technical doers and implementers” and start thinking of themselves as “business thinkers who provide business value using technology”.
This will be harder for some than for others. Acquiring the needed business knowledge is not the hard part. Rather, it’s getting the CEO and other executives to believe that you and your IT organization are business people first, and technologists second. This is the true example of how perception becomes reality.
It’s only after you and your organization have shown competency at all four levels and are appreciated by its business partners that you'll possess the clout needed to help drive the organization’s digital future.
2. CIO business savvy
CIO business savvy is a combination of business acumen, emotional intelligence, leadership ability, strategic orientation, and the personal desire to step beyond the technical realm and into the business realm. There are some CIOs who want to stay in the technical space. That’s okay - there is no right or wrong, just what is best for your career. But as CIO, if you do not take a proactive, business-oriented stance, then the IT organization you lead will not be positioned to drive digital transformation. Its role will only be to support it or standby and watch as others make it happen.
3. CIO’s influential power
In addition to being business savvy, the CIO and senior IT staff must also have an understanding of how to maximize their influence. The ability to influence others is based on the combination of factors, including your communications and interpersonal skills, your knowledge of the topic under discussion, and the willingness of the audience to listen to your message.
4. CEO/C-Suite engagement
CEO and C-Suite engagement is how all others in the C suite feel about
- The role IT should play in the organization
- Digitally transforming business areas on their own, without IT involvement
- Technology as a strategic business tool
- Being a leader or follower in new technology adoption
Even if IT does everything right to earn a seat at the table, if the CEO and other C suite members don’t allow IT to take that seat, seizing a leadership role in digital transformation will be next to impossible.
The good news is that as time goes on, digital technologies are continuing to drive business productivity, competitive advantage, and new company revenue streams. Those CIOs and other IT leaders who run IT well, have business savvy, possess influencing skills and who work within technologically driven organizations can impact their company’s future prosperity and success like never before!