If IT can't get the resources you see IT needs, you need to take a hard look at why. Does the CEO undervalue IT, or is IT just not valuable to your organization?
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"Tell me how you spend your time and what you spend your money on, and I'll tell you what your priorities are." If this was 10 years ago, I might try to attribute that quote, but nowadays, I'd have 50 trolls telling me that Abraham Lincoln never said that, or that most Internet quotes are made up. Nonetheless, there is wisdom in that quote that both IT and management teams need to hear.
Let me suggest that our industry problem, boiled down, amounts to this: IT leaders feel like IT is undervalued or that IT is under-resourced. There are even CIOs, like Foodstuffs' Peter Muggleston, who have publicly called out their own organizations for underspending on IT.
Yet some execs may think that, in real dollars, surely IT has enough cash to deliver the goods. Overspending on IT, the thinking goes, may create a cash flow problem elsewhere in the organization.
The key is to define "underspending," "normal," and "investing." That is, your doctor doesn't tell you, "Get off of your duff and exercise," instead, your doctor gives specific advice, like, "Get 30 minutes of high-intensity exercise four times a week." The same is true for IT investments.
What is your organization spending? Can you define that against other industries? What is your per-capita spend? (Dollars spent per customer served.) What is IT spending, expressed in a percentage of total spending? (That is, if your organization has a total expense budget of $100 million, and it spends $2 million on IT, that's 2%).
Where is the management team spending its time? Broadly, there are four stages that describe how the management team might be spending its time:
1. Crisis. IT is a big problem. Things are broken, products ship late, customer problems occur. Lots of time is spent. Money is readily available to solve the issue, but outsourcing or ejection of the CIO is likely.
2. Hear no evil, speak no evil. IT is doing well, but busy execs "don't have time for that techie stuff." Generally, business units use IT in a highly tactical way, as in: "We'll call you when we need something." There is value in IT, but it stops far short of transforming the way the organization does business.
3. Engagement. IT is doing well, and executives know what additional value IT can bring to the table. Execs regularly share business strategies with IT leaders and look to IT to proactively offer suggestions about automation and digital products. Organizations start to reap the benefits
4. Embedding. The line between IT leaders and the management team is blurred, and, indeed, the entire business strategy recognizes that digital technology is fundamental to the way that the organization operates. Business leaders use data and digital technology as if it's second nature. Effective IT leaders are welcomed into the larger management team. A great example of this is AARP, where CIO Terry Bradwell was named chief enterprise strategy and innovation officer.
Ironically, it is at stage 2 that most IT organizations have the most trouble seeking additional funding. "Things are good. Who needs to fund IT any more than we are? We used to have lots of problems, now we don't. Why mess with it?" But the truth is that stage 2 is dangerous. The organization continues to build a reliance on IT and to increase demand for IT services while choosing not to resource IT further.
IT leaders stuck in stage 2 often blame management. But the truth is, IT has a role in being stuck. Is IT coming up with ideas to improve business? Is IT making it clear to business leaders that you cannot get to stage 3 or stage 4 if business leaders aren't sharing strategy and responsibility with IT leaders?
I agree that executives, especially those who aren't digital natives, have a hard time understanding the transformational value of IT. But, here is a brutal truth: Highly technical IT leaders sometimes make the problem worse. They tend to over-communicate via email and under-communicate in other ways.
That is, they'll write a gigantic, analytical email, send it to a busy exec or a team of busy execs, and then expect them to process it. The truth is that these memos are "TL;DR" (too long; didn't read) for busy execs. Generally, folks high up in the pecking order are dealing with at least a crisis or two. They are overloaded, and they simply do not have time to deal with a gigantic, analytical email, no matter how proactive it is.
Yet, you must succeed anyway. Your organization is counting on you. My suggestions to move the needle:
Jonathan Feldman is Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where his business background and work as an InformationWeek columnist have helped him to innovate in government through better practices in business technology, process, and human ... View Full Bio
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