Anna Frazzetto's Blog

Digital Innovations and Technology Solutions

Recession Opportunities: Notes from Chicago's CIOs

On April 16, Harvey Nash hosted a CIO Forum and panel discussion in Chicago, Illinois. The panel tackled a number of big IT issues but the recession, not surprisingly, headlined the evening. However, the words of both the executive panel and the audience of IT leaders were not words of recession doom and gloom.

What did I hear from these IT leaders? I heard that the recession is "a terrible thing to waste." I heard that a recession offers a chance to really "get to know your business." I heard senior IT executives recasting today's challenges as opportunities to improve business operations and market position. Here are just a few ways they plan to do it:

Through Innovation
The panel and audience agreed that innovation is an important way for a company to defy the recession odds and succeed today. The challenge, however, is achieving true innovation. As one panelist put it, an innovation is "not a slight improvement, but a dynamic shift."

In order to promote and increase innovation and innovative thinking, panelists discussed the importance of introducing new ideas and perspectives across the organization. For example, one leader described promoting innovative thinking through role switching. For example, the CEO might take on the CIO's role for a period of time in order to see firsthand the challenges and requirements of the leadership position. The results are often a strong infusion of new ideas as well as greater collaboration among departments and business leaders.

By Taking Action & Competing
Both the panel and audience agreed that businesses should take advantage of the circumstances in the market. It's the perfect moment to build your organization because many competitors will be frozen by recession fears or choosing to wait out the hard times. Smart businesses can convert a downturn into a significant growth opportunity by making strategic sales, business development and marketing choices when other businesses are stalled or shrinking.

One piece of advice to the audience was to look at the businesses in the marketplace today that are succeeding and study what they are doing. Wherever you can, embrace winning tactics, shed the losing strategies and--above all--do not become dormant or timid. Innovation, greatness and remarkable growth will never come from the safe, middle ground.

Another important point made was that recessions are a good time to hire. The market is flooded with job seekers, which makes it easier to bring on top-caliber talent and even easier to woo outstanding professionals who are employed elsewhere but open to moving to a company determined to grow, innovate and lead despite the recession.

Focusing on External Clients
IT departments can fall into the trap of focusing on their internal clients: "This is what the marketing department needs." "This is how the CEO wants to see it done." The focus should instead be on the external clients whose purchases and loyalty keep your company in business. CIOs should be looking at the wide range of projects their teams are managing and analyzing how that work is helping to address, support and advance the needs of the business' customers.

Executing a Smart Sourcing Strategy
Finally, the CIOs agree that IT sourcing must be a strategic effort led by IT leaders. Today's CIOs should be designing and executing overarching sourcing strategies that deliver both technology and business value.

Rather than simply offshoring to achieve cost-cutting goals or outsourcing to access hard-to-find skills, strategic IT sourcing is a long-term way for the technology department to achieve a range of business goals and enduring efficiencies, such as: improved IT service levels, reduced IT costs, expanded technology skill sets and increased ability to scale to business and market demands. CIOs should be front and center, driving successful sourcing strategies.

Moreover, CIOs should not be tempted to turn this central role over to the CEO. Implementing smart IT sourcing is one of the CIO's most important jobs today. In fact, the panelists warned, a CIO whose sourcing strategy is coming from somewhere else should be worried about his/her job security.

With more CIO Forums and events ahead for Harvey Nash across the U.S., I am looking forward to gathering more business, technology and recession lessons from IT leaders nationwide.