Explain IT value to skeptics

Scenario: Convincing C-Suite Peers
Dwayne Cable, Vice President and CIO, Joliet Junior College

In the last two years, there has been a lot of turnover in our top leadership, including the vice presidents of finance and academics, two significant figures in the world of higher education. A side effect of this is that the leadership has paid little attention to strategic planning at any level. Since coming to Joliet, one of my top priorities has been to solidify IT’s reputation for providing service and to establish trusted relationships with my peers. Our new CFO in particular is a challenge because of her history with IT in other organizations; she sees it as a tech shop. So I have focused on working with other VPs to demonstrate how IT helps solve problems, particularly for student-facing services, and adds value across the institution.

But it is difficult to build a long-term vision for technology’s role when we don’t have the backbone of enterprise strategic planning and the CFO lacks basic understanding of IT’s potential. Since IT is based upon process and planning, we should be able to serve as the driver for creating strategy and understanding, but we haven’t been able to get over the hump of that first win with the skeptics. How are others tackling this challenge? What are you doing to overcome this cultural divide?

Advice: Talk About Investment in Mission Value
Flavian Pinto, CIO and CFO, Community Living Toronto

I started in the financial world, but I saw the importance of technology and now I lead in both. Because of this, I know it is still not unusual to find CFOs who view IT as another element of operations and maintenance—something as straightforward as replacing furniture or a vehicle in the fleet—but I also know that any CFO worth his or her salt will be focused on investing to improve the organization. So that is how any CIO must approach this divide.

The relationships that Dwayne is establishing with the academic leaders at his institution, and the value that is he providing them, will be the key to succeeding at this effort. When a CFO doesn’t view IT as a strategic player, approaching from the mission perspective—in this case, academics and the students—is the best way to establish IT’s importance in a manner that the CFO will understand.

Many in IT believe that CFOs are all about the numbers, and they are. But a good CFO cares about what the numbers represent to the future of the enterprise. In this kind of situation, the CIO needs to work with the other leaders to communicate what value IT has already delivered and what they still need from IT in order to provide world-class service. Those leaders are the people who then need to go to the CFO and explain their plans and how IT enables them.
Advice: Empower Others to Lead
Curtis Carver, Vice chancellor and CIO, University system of Georgia

To create a truly effective IT strategic plan, I established committees where my office guided the agenda, but the campus leaders were responsible for the actions and outcomes. Unlike Joliet, we do have a stable executive team and a systemwide strategic plan to work with in our planning. Whether you have that base or not, anyone can talk about aligning with mission and needs, but it’s only when people are personally involved in setting priorities that they understand what alignment means to them. This kind of people management is fundamental—without it, it doesn’t matter how clear the larger organization’s plans and priorities are, because the buy-in is missing.

Working with the stakeholders such as the vice presidents is the first step in creating these groups. You must clearly establish in their minds that you are there to help. The purpose of the committees for us, then, is to have a space for adult conversations. For IT to be used strategically, decisions can’t be made through a process of stakeholders throwing needs over a wall and IT putting the options on a dartboard and hoping the resources will be available for whatever gets hit that week. When leaders are brought into a room together—virtually or physically—you can have the conversations about priorities, the consequences of action or inaction, and funding. And because we in the central IT office are only setting the boundaries in which decisions must be made, it is easier to create expectations for and understanding of the mission-oriented issues and priorities.

Cable, Sita and Carver are all members of the CIO Executive Council, a global peer advisory service and professional association of more than 500 CIOs, founded by CIO’s publisher. To learn more, visit council.cio.com.

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