6 ways to elevate IT's role in the business

Opportunities are ripe for IT leaders to move from cost-center to business center, say Gartner analysts.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Enterprises want a lot more out of their IT departments. Take care of our Big Data, get us onboard with the Internet of Things. Help us become a digital business. By the way, your budget is cut 3% this year.  How do technology leaders overcome this squeeze? It's a matter of mindset and attitude.

World Trade Center NYC Aug 2012 Photo by Joe McKendrick
Photo: Joe McKendrick

A couple of months back, we discussed the growing divide seen between IT leaders -- most are still "cost-center" focused, but a growing segment are forward-looking, digitally focused.

Opportunities are ripe for most, if not all IT leaders to move from cost-center to business center, according to Gartner analysts Richard Hunter and Sanil Solanki. In a recent report (available through Apptio), they discuss how IT's role can be elevated within the business. 

Here are snippets of their advice:

1) Change the conversation:  It's time to change the conversation both within and outside of IT, Hunter and Solanki state.  "To put it simply, every conversation between an IT professional and anyone from another part of the business should begin and end with a business outcome that matters."

2) Settle the question of whether IT can do its job: "In cost-focused cultures, there is often a nagging suspicion within the executive team that IT is not just low cost, but low performing," Hunter and Solanki point out. Tie outcomes to IT spending, they urge. "Frame IT price in terms of enterprise performance by trending IT spending as a unit cost for an enterprise outcome, such as a supply chain shipment, the acquisition of a customer or the hiring of an employee, and specifying the performance related to the outcome (for example, throughput, waste and timeliness on the supply chain), as well as IT's price." IT delivery rates should be contrasted with prevailing market rates, they add.

3) Emphasize strategy and its implications for investment: "The IT project portfolio is essentially the most comprehensive snapshot available of the enterprise's investments in strategic outcomes, and should be explicitly treated as such," Hunter and Solanki state. IT leaders should "frame every IT-supported project explicitly in terms of the project's contribution to those goals — that is, how many of the specific strategic goals will be achieved, when and at what cost, given the current project portfolio."

4) Change the mindset of the CFO: Don't talk about "IT projects" with the financial people, but talk about "investments," Hunter and Solanki advise. Link IT initiatives to strategic outcomes. Propose ways to increase IT spend on business growth and transformation initiatives.

5) Market IT successes: Don't be shy about advertising IT successes -- while tying them to business outcomes. "Many IT leaders are reluctant to advertise their successes on the assumption that doing so is unseemly or in the mistaken belief that performance speaks for itself," say Hunter and Solanki. "By framing successes in terms of business outcomes, IT leaders send important messages to their employees about what matters, why and how."

6) Change the relationship with the rest of the business: Again, it's all about IT delivering business outcomes -- "not technology functions and features, capacities, and capabilities, nor the activities of IT personnel." As the conversation becomes elevated to connect IT activities with business outcomes, "conversations are easier, value is clearer and IT is more likely to be perceived as a full-fledged member of the enterprise team, which, in turn, opens the door for IT to create even more value."

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