No. 2 | Deliver IT projects in weeks or months, not years
As noted at the beginning of this story, the top worry for the IT leaders in our Global CIO Survey is that they can't implement fast enough to meet business goals, cited by 57% of respondents. The next biggest worry--not having enough budget--is fairly close, cited by 48%, followed by having no system to prioritize projects (22%), having a poor understanding of customers (17%), and having poor relationships with business units (15%).
Let this soak in a moment: IT leaders know what needs to be done, but the big problem is execution. Where do projects bog down: requirements, development, buying, testing, rework?
For an example of the needed sense of urgency, consider the goings-on at Starbucks last fall. In the last week of August, Starbucks' executives, led by CEO Howard Schultz, decided that the company should try to do something to help create jobs. By Nov. 1, the company had launched "Create Jobs For USA," encouraging customers to donate $5 and get a wristband--money that, along with $5 million from the Starbucks Foundation, a nonprofit group would lend to small businesses with the goal of adding jobs. The project meant creating a new website (createjobsforusa.org) and a Facebook page with options to donate online. IT did some work, some was outsourced, but "IT is part of the discussion about whether something should be outsourced," says Adam Brotman, Starbucks' VP of Digital Ventures. Create Jobs wasn't an IT project; it was a company project with an "as soon as possible" deadline, so IT couldn't afford to gum up the works. Think Schultz would have accepted a six-month timeline when the whole point was that the U.S. jobs recovery was coming too slowly?
When a new project comes up, you need people calling IT for advice on how to make it happen on deadline. Too often, the stated or unstated feeling is, "If we call in IT, this will never get done in time."
No. 1 | Really know who buys your product
IT leaders are pretty cocksure they have this one cold. Only 17% of the respondents to our Global CIO Survey say "understanding external customers" is a concern. The only factors they cite as less of a concern are having good business unit relationships (15%) and having the right outsourcing ties (13%).
And yet, when we look at IT leaders' priorities, they don't look intensely focused on customers. Just 12% cite "engage customers in news ways" as one of their top innovation projects for 2012, and just 24% cite "improve customer service." Cost cutting and process change lead the priority list, suggesting an internal focus.
Business technology leaders need to make sure that the rank-and-file IT pros really understand what matters to their ultimate customers. At CME Group, the commodities exchange company that includes the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, IT pros test trading system upgrades from the offices of hedge fund customers, knowing that even millisecond disruptions matter to those traders. For Vanguard, the mutual fund company, all employees, from CIO Paul Heller to entry-level IT pros, take a turn answering phone calls from customers. When Stephen Gillett started as CIO of Starbucks in 2008, he spent his first week as a barista--and quickly learned how long it had been since the cash register systems had been upgraded.
These are token gestures unless they turn into action. IT leaders must connect what they and their teams do to what customers want and need. They need to follow the lead of the 32% of IT leaders in our survey who say they're driving new IT-led products.