CIOs As Rainmakers: The New Meme, Deconstructed - InformationWeek

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CIOs As Rainmakers: The New Meme, Deconstructed

When your CEO or CFO asks you to be a rainmaker, it's a call for help. Wrap it all in context and respond in a holistic way.

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IT is the new moneymaker! I keep reading variations on this meme, but if IT's new role is to generate revenue and profits on its own, I have a couple of snarky questions:

What do the old revenue generators do? Does HR now have to make money as well? Does IT have to be good at IT anymore? Business leaders keep finding new things for IT leaders to run, so do we get to lay off the people they're replacing?

The consumerization of IT, the rise of the tech savvy CMO and the Hollywood-like yearning to take complex situations and simplify them into 15-second sound bites all mean that CIOs will come under fire by the ignorant.

Obviously, there are bad IT organizations and bad CIOs. But that doesn't mean that IT needs to go sing for its supper. Plenty of good CIOs have been engaging in this money-making activity for years -- in partnership with those people whose primary job it is.

Pundits called that practice "aligning IT with the business" until, starved for new material, they decided that this was no longer enough. Trust me: The "new rainmaker" will also fall out of fashion. But moving in concert with the business and helping sales, marketing and other departments achieve objectives like making money -- also known as helping the organization achieve critical goals -- will never fall out of fashion.

Reality is more complex than paper cutout Hollywood CIOs with big, cash-eating grins. Some days, good CIOs do help their organizations make money. Other days, they minimize loss. Or make an operation more efficient. Or delight a set of customers so that they want to keep coming back. None of these things can ever be accomplished without IT partnerships with business units.

I drill this into my staff's heads until I hear them quoting it to others: "There are no technology projects; there are only business projects with technology components." IT should be pervasive in everything that modern companies do. That doesn't mean that CIOs are all of a sudden in charge of everything a modern organization does. Nor does it mean there are CIOs out there who singlehandedly have created revenue for their companies. I've helped my organization generate more revenue, but I would never dream of taking sole credit for it.

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My regular advice to my staff helps me answer my snarky questions. In a world where there's a renewed focus on IT pros assisting with revenue generation, those old revenue generators had better be at the table, or IT will fail. HR and other departments may not be in the same spotlight as IT -- as far as you know -- but believe me, the CEO is looking at them using the same "helpful/not helpful" detector.

IT pros do have to be amazingly good at IT, because nobody else is qualified to do it right. As InformationWeek editor in chief Rob Preston pointed out recently, CIOs should be proud of their technical acumen, without apology, just as it would be unthinkable for the medical director of a hospital to feel defensive for being medically astute.

There's no question that change will continue to be the one constant in the wild and wooly world of business technology. I'd even say that an IT apocalypse is underway. But technologists are more at home with change than just about any profession -- name another field where the state of the art shifts so radically during a career! So rather than get worked up about the latest "IT should run everything while we sit home eating bonbons" motif, let's just consider it a cry for help.

So when your CEO or CFO asks you to be a rainmaker like all of those beautiful people profiled in Forbes, wrap it all in context and respond to the call for help in a holistic way. Bottom line: IT continues to be and always will be a helping profession. Boiling down wild assertions into actionable requests for help should be nothing new to us.

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Heather Vallis
Heather Vallis,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/6/2012 | 3:15:12 PM
re: CIOs As Rainmakers: The New Meme, Deconstructed
You make some great points, Jonathan. These days IT is expected to drive business innovation, rather than just "keep the lights on". The good news is, according to our recent Outlook 2013 Survey, that 85% of business tech pros say their IT organization somewhat or significantly improved their company's operations or products in 2012 and 60% say IT is core to nearly every part of the business or considered in their company's overall growth strategy. That said, the top IT projects for 2013 are internally focused: improving security, upgrading network and storage infrastructure. IT needs to focus more externally on projects that affect the customer directly.

Heather Vallis
Managing Editor, Research
User Rank: Apprentice
12/6/2012 | 7:21:51 PM
re: CIOs As Rainmakers: The New Meme, Deconstructed
What happens when you stop worrying about keeping the lights on...? Well, if you do it to your house, you let the paint go another five or ten years. That roof? It can last a while longer, it's not leaking badly. A crack in the foundation, it's nothing... It doesn't take long until you've undone the value of your home. Why should IT infrastructure be any different?

Let's hear it for keeping the lights on. It's a thankless job, but things go south in a hurry when you stop worrying about it.

The way we talk about IT's relationship to other business units is wrong. We're not there to out-revenue them, we're there largely to help them do what they do better. I recall a pundit saying that aligning IT to the business was wrong headed, what IT needed to do was align to the customer - forget about what the business needs. It's just not helpful.

(I work here, and Jonathan and i go back a few years!)
User Rank: Strategist
12/6/2012 | 8:44:40 PM
re: CIOs As Rainmakers: The New Meme, Deconstructed
As I read the article, one recommendation came across which is don't chase the fashionable catch phrase of the moment whether that is "new rainmaker" or "business alignment" or "business innovator." They all imply the same thing, focus on the business core which I try to do to the dismay of some of the IT staff when they are reminded they are a supporting group of the bank, hospital, or retail company (WalMart, HomeDepot, Lowes, etc.) and following the IT fad of the moment does not always align with the business.

I hate following catch phrases just because and not using the fashion phrase of the moment will get you criticized as being out of touch, but you simply cannot loose sight of the core business you are in and if you, the CIO, try to tell a branch manager which products he should be selling or making patient diagnosis, then I see a dark future for you in the firm. I agree then that IT is not primarily the "rainmaker" but the rain can be measured by showing savings through improved processes or lowered waste and this would be the rain to show the CEO/CFO as profit.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/10/2012 | 10:07:21 AM
re: CIOs As Rainmakers: The New Meme, Deconstructed
What i believe is really needed , is a more measurable and tangible way to demonstrate to the business the contributions that IT is making by supporting the business units engaged in generating revenue for the firm. In that way we position IT as one which is directly linked with revenue generation , rather than just being a pure cost center or a necessary evil or a burden to the business. It might mean a totally newer way of accounting for the business all together or we can have something midway , where the IT department maintains parallel account of the cost the company would have to bear if it was to be provided with the equivalent level of IT related services and resources to make its business function, through an outsourced or external provider. There could be other ways of positioning and allocating the cost-benefit of business projects with strong IT components like ERP systems for example. A reasonable portion of the revenue generated by the sales team could be allocated to the ERP systems in place (which are direct facilitators of the top-line growth) and thus should be transferred to the IT department revenue generation, since they are the department primarily supporting the ERP system (and more so if the expenses of buying and running the ERP have been pushed under IT projects).
This would be a more equitable way of looking at things and would also help in identifying the true worth and value (and even the inefficiencies) of the IT department. Building up more visibility of the IT department functioning in financial terms is the only and the best way to bridge the divide between CIO's and CFO/CEO's.
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