Anna Frazzetto's Blog

Digital Innovations and Technology Solutions

NY/NJ IT Leaders Debate the Tried and True IT Issues

It seems two themes keep emerging in IT: justifying IT innovation and establishing a stronger connection between IT and the business. Why do these two "tried and true" themes continue to challenge IT executives and their business colleagues? Because both are incredibly important to the success of IT, yet we continue to spin our wheels trying to figure out how to move the concepts forward. In fact, these topics were heavily debated by an esteemed panel of senior IT leaders at the New York CIO Leadership Forum we hosted along with PA Consulting Group on October 15.

Initiate Innovation
According to the 2008/09 Harvey Nash Strategic Insights Survey--An IT Leadership Perspective, sponsored by PA Consulting Group, a decisive majority of respondents (92%) agreed that their business organizations look to IT to increase competitive advantage through technology innovation. What then makes achieving IT innovation so challenging for technology organizations? Let's look at the reasons discussed at last week's CIO Forum and, at the same time, look at ways your organization can overcome these obstacles.

ROI. With innovation, ROI has often been cited as a roadblock to getting innovation plans approved as direct profits are hard to demonstrate. Indirect costs, on the other hand, are easier to identify. For example, cost savings as a result of innovation are often seen through activities like streamlining, simplifying and improving the way functions operate. In fact, according to 68% of IT leader respondents to the Strategic Insights Survey, internal business enhancements, such as cost reductions and greater efficiency, are the result of IT innovation. Half as many, 35% of respondents, say they have seen "transformational change," such as strategic improvements, as a result of innovation efforts. So innovation is working, but we need to quantify, quantify and re-quantify the return on investment from both a profit standpoint and cost-savings standpoint. With companies coming off of a very difficult year, demonstrating any savings or profit will strengthen your chances of getting an innovation plan approved.

Strong Business Case. Speaking of plans, while I am a believer in thinking out- of-the-box, innovation ideas need to be accompanied with a strong business case (that of course includes ROI). Without a well-developed plan, you won't get approval. And since many respondents to the Strategic Insights Survey reported collaborating on innovation with suppliers, customers, professional service firms, even competitors, consider collaboration opportunities as part of your innovation plan.

CFO/CEO Buy-In. For the attendees at the New York CIO Forum, we had about a 50/50 split on those who report to the CFO and those who report to the CEO. But no matter who your direct supervisor is, both are critical to moving innovation projects forward. Today you need buy-in from both the CEO and CFO to put an innovative idea into motion. So, determine the selling points from each executive's point of view and make your presentations accordingly. And as our panelists pointed out, it's often easier to get your CFO's approval if you have your CEO's backing, so consider approaching him/her first.

Alignment. To truly integrate IT with the business, make sure your innovation idea is aligned with the business and overall strategic goals of the company. An off-goal idea might be a great example of thinking out-of-the-box, but it won't see the light of day because it doesn't tie back to the company's business strategy. IT and business leaders are on the same page in terms of the importance of achieving the utmost in IT efficiency. What's also important to remember is the significance of IT innovation as a means to achieving efficiency and strategic goals.

Wondering about ideas for generating innovative strategies? Respondents to the Strategic Insights Survey reported they saw success with idea-generation workshops and/or establishing a dedicated IT innovation team tasked with continuous improvement.

IT & Business: Do They Go Hand in Hand?
The idea that IT isn't seen as part of the business has been a heated topic of conversation at many of the Harvey Nash CIO Leadership Forums. One panelist at our latest event commented that while each area of a company―IT, marketing, operations, finance, etc.―comes together to make up the business, it's unfortunate that IT is often seen as the group who makes sure e-mail works or that the printers are up and running. Not everyone realizes IT's role in helping organizations make a profit.

While this notion continues to hold truth, I truly believe IT is making great strides in securing its position within the business side of operations. IT is becoming significantly more than just the techies who fix technology issues. Business leaders are looking more and more to their IT organizations for leadership in executing strategic plans and addressing essential business needs through the tools of technology.

But the fact that only 43% of respondents to the Strategic Insights Survey believe their IT organization to be "well integrated" or "completely integrated" with the business tells us that IT still has work to do in proving and communicating their overarching contributions and value. And according to our discussion at the recent CIO Forum, IT teams often feel that while they work hard to learn and understand the "business," their business counterparts are not doing the same to educate themselves on technology. Rather than seeing this as a roadblock to collaboration, IT leaders can use this moment to partner with their business peers and colleagues to increase knowledge on both sides. Who knows? Maybe as both IT and business organizations learn more and collaborate, some incredible, innovative and profit-driving opportunities will be discovered.

The Reality
The reality is it's likely these "tried and true" IT issues will linger. In fact, it's probably a good thing to have some discord and varied perspectives among expert groups. Diversity makes us stronger and can be a breeding ground for new thinking. Whether leading innovation efforts or becoming further involved with business strategy, IT leaders and their roles continue to evolve in important ways. For me, this is an important migration for IT leaders--those who successfully establish themselves as business--not just technology--leaders will be the most effective at driving innovation efforts and impacting bottom-line results.

A Special Thanks to Our Panelists
It was a true pleasure moderating the exceptionally knowledgeable panelists who participated in the New York event:

• Alfonso Perez, CTO, Solbright, Inc.
• Atti Riazi, Founder & Executive Director, CIOs Without Borders
• John Donnarumma, Global CIO, GroupM
• Jon Harding, Global CIO, Conair Corporation
• Michael Kolbrener, SVP, IT, Aurora Bank FSB

I appreciate your thoughtful dialogue and am certain CIOs from across the globe will benefit from your candor.