How to demonstrate IT value to the business

It’s been some 50 years since IT was introduced to the business, and CIOs are still struggling to demonstrate its direct relationship to a company’s financial performance. We asked five members of the CIO Executive Council for their advice on how to pull IT out of its black box and place it squarely on the executive table.


“Once you make it to the table, you have to start operating like an ‘O,'” says John Hummel, CIO of Sutter Health. “CIOs are socially inept, highly intellectual people who tend to sit at the back of the room, while a CEO will work the room. I spend 90 per cent of my time outside my office, and I expect the same of my direct reports. If business leaders don’t see our faces, we are viewed as overhead.”


Speak the language of the business so that users and colleagues view you as a partner and not just another computer geek. “Physicians think in terms of patient safety, not ROI,” says Hummel. “My senior managers and I do rounds with doctors and talk in terms of cost-per-discharge, not software systems. We hire people with medical experience who have a bent toward IT.”


“Unless you’re in the software industry, it’s tough to tell your business that IT is important,” says Hummel. “We’ve been very proactive in finding awards inside and outside health care that validate our work and prove to the CEO that we’re as good as we say we are. When we win an award for diversity or for one of the company’s other pillars, it further aligns us with our company’s vision.”


“The shelf life on opportunity is short,” says Martin Gomberg, CTO of A&E Television Networks Inc. “Competitiveness comes from getting out there early — as fast as you can — and taking the time to make it better, cheaper and more efficient. I’m not recommending you waste money on stupid projects, or even that you live on the bleeding edge. CIOs who get caught up in asking themselves, Am I doing this in the best possible way and at the lowest cost? may miss out on chances to bring early value to the business.”


“Senior management needs to believe that you have the best interests of the business at heart and are not chasing fads,” says Gomberg. “If we focus on solving the problems of the business, we get a lot more attention. Technology is just parts. Senior management wants to know what we’re going to do, not what we’re going to do it with.”


“When I say I’m going to solve a business problem but it will take six months, business leaders have no way to independently assess whether that’s too long,” says Kathleen Starkoff, CTO of Limited Brands. “They want it now, and they’re frustrated with how long it will take to enable. If CIOs can be proactive and anticipate technology needs before the business does, they will greatly reduce that frustration.” One example she gives of a way to do that is to focus on enterprise functionality, rather than handling problems in a one-off way.


“You need a framework that relates IT to your company’s business drivers,” says Steve Brown, CIO of The Carlson Cos. “When you’re talking to CFOs who don’t know a damn thing about IT and don’t care, it’s great to be able to tell them, This is where this technology investment fits into your P&L. Then, they begin to get it.”


“You need to approach your job as though you’re running for office,” says Barbra Cooper, CIO at Toyota Motor Sales USA. “Your executives are constituents with different points of view who need to connect with you personally and believe that you care about their needs.” To do this, Cooper has a systematic way of learning the line of business’s value. “We use an outside firm to interview our business executives every 18 months to learn their perception of the impact of IT on their business,” she says. “We customize our campaign based, in part, on what we learn from these interviews.”


“The University of Toyota Center for IT coordinates technology events–for example, a lecture about the Internet by one of its founders, Vint Cerf–that are open to everyone throughout the company,” says Cooper. “We use the center as a forum to present large IT initiatives. We also have ribbon-cutting ceremonies for our major launches. We tie a giant ribbon around the computer, invite people from IT and the business (who worked together on the project), formally hand over the documentation, and have the business sponsor photographed while he or she cuts the ribbon.”

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