Five ways that IT can add value to the organization

A number of years ago, Nicholas Carr wrote an article entitled “IT Doesn’t Matter” in which he attempted to equate the current IT function to technologies such as railroads and the electrical grid.  In this article, Carr argued that decreasing costs of and increasing access to technology would eliminate technology as a competitive edge and eventually relegate it to “has been” status.

Although the function will change over time as new products hit the market, as the economy shifts and as business needs change, I’m a firm believer that the IT function is one that can and will continue to add tremendous value to the business.  That said, there are five steps that I believe CIOs need to take in order to ensure that this is the case.

1. Jettison the routine in favor of the business

I’m a big believer in keeping IT focused on activities that make sense and finding ways to accomplish those that don’t.  For example, if you have expensive IT staffers running around making network cables, you’re committing a sin on two levels:

  • The chances are very good that the cost for those handmade cables is much more than simply buying cables from a low cost provider on the Internet.
  • There is an opportunity cost associated with IT staff performing activities that are routine.  Every hour spent on an activity that is not providing real value organization is an hour lost.

The time is now.  Analyze every single thing being done by the IT staff and determine if it’s a candidate for outsourcing.

2. Become a marketer

There’s a reason that companies have marketing organizations; they work.  They help tell the company story in a way that ensures that the right message is sent at the right time.  CIOs need to take a page from this playbook and actively market the IT organization.

Marketing may be as simple as a weekly update to the organization regarding the status of IT projects and new initiatives or it may even go so far as to hire a person dedicated to keeping up with what’s going on in IT and sharing it with the rest of the organization.

3. Ensure good governance

I tend to beat this one to death, but I don’t think a CIO can be successful without good governance in place.  Without it, there may be a perception of order, but under the hood, I would expect that there is simmering frustration throughout the organization.  Users are frustrated because they may not know how projects are approved and see that their needs aren’t being met.  CIOs are frustrated because they’re in a constant state of fire-fighting and they are finding themselves either simply having to so No to avoid ongoing overload or always having to respond to the person that yells the loudest.

Governance helps alleviate all of these issues by providing both users and IT with a forum for coming to broad agreement on priorities, effectively neutering the “squeaky wheel” and helping IT better understand true priorities.

4. Develop deep partnerships

For years, guidance has required CIOs to forge partnerships with CFOs, who control the purse strings.  This advice remains valid, but CIOs must also partner with other members of the senior team, including marketing and sales officers and those responsible for customer service.  By doing so, the CIO will further build business credibility, as long as these partnerships are based on how IT can better meet the needs of the organization as opposed to choosing between a desktop and a laptop.

Make friends.  Befriend other members of the senior leadership team.  The partnership can go both ways.  When it comes time for IT to request additional resources, executives that really understand what’s going on will support the effort.

5. Find and develop new revenue opportunities

While attempting to focus on business-facing initiatives and befriending other members of the executive team are laudable goals, nothing speaks louder than actions.  Find something that others might have overlooked and exploit it.  This article from a couple of years ago outlines one such idea.  In it, the author describes an airline boarding pass that included information beyond just the seat and airline name.  Instead, the boarding pass contained event and weather information for her destination.

Think about that for a second.  By simply adding basic information to the boarding pass, the airline was able to add value to the traveler’s experience.  On the revenue front, I could see this taken to the point of selling advertising space on the boarding passes