When does tech really get the CEO's attention? Listen as CEOs from Lowe's, Coke, and other companies explain the tech projects that are indispensable to business goals.
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Does the IT team move the needle for your company?
We all know some tech projects are more important than others. But one surefire way to know if an IT project's really vital is if the CEO is talking about it. That's especially true if the CEO is talking about it on quarterly conference calls with financial analysts, because that means the project is considered to be something that can move the stock price.
That notion got me thinking: How many CEOs out there are touting their companies' tech initiatives? So I went searching, mostly through the treasure trove that is SeekingAlpha.com's conference call transcripts.
I found some strong examples, from the likes of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald, and Progressive CEO Glenn Renwick. Excerpts from them are on the following pages.
The example that got me started on my search comes from Robert Niblock, CEO of Lowe's, which is undertaking a huge effort to give 42,000 iPhones to store personnel so they can do a better job helping customers. I wanted to learn more about the company's plan, so I checked if Niblock had talked about it during conference calls. Here's what I found in the transcript of the fourth-quarter call with analysts: "In 2011, we undertook the largest single-year investment in IT in-store systems infrastructure in Lowe's' history."
The company's sweeping tech strategy goes way beyond iPhones, even beyond its huge ecommerce effort, to include a MyLowes platform that Niblock describes as helping people in "managing, maintaining, and improving homes." Lowe's is dealing with a world where the line between in-store shopping and ecommerce is disappearing, and people want a digital experience that crosses it all.
The CEO excerpts that follow are the exceptions. None of the big bank CEOs' comments I read, for example, mentioned IT in a big way. One reason is that transformative IT projects--the kind that rise to the CEO discussion level--just don't come along that often. I suspect that if the Lowe's CEO is telling analysts two years from now, "In 2014 we undertook the largest single-year investment in IT in-store systems infrastructure in Lowe's' history," he's not going to be too psyched about it.
Surprisingly, many IT pros aren't motivated by the idea that their IT projects could have a big impact on the company. Just 22% of IT staffers and 34% of managers cite "my work is important to company success" among the elements that matter most to them, according to InformationWeek's 2012 U.S. IT Salary Survey. (Here is what we reported from last year's salary research; we'll publish our full 2012 Salary Survey research next month.)
But IT managers and staffers do put a very high premium on others valuing their opinions and knowledge. To get that recognition, it helps if those IT pros can articulate the value of IT in business terms. And that's what CEOs do better than most. So take a look at how they talk about technology.