Digital transformation: Four ways to get backing for your great ideas

CIOs need to take advantage of executives' new-found interest in IT. Here's how to get backing for your technology projects.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

The business has seen the power of digital transformation and now it wants more form its CIOs: analyst Gartner says tech chiefs will focus on spending that enables innovation through 2021 and beyond.

All this fresh interest means that IT professionals have a great opportunity to get boardroom backing for new projects. So how can digital leaders get their team's new ideas noticed and funded? Four tech chief gives their best-practice tips for turning smart ideas into projects that change the business for the better.

1. Keep an open channel between IT and the business

Jon Braithwaite, CIO at food and support services company Compass Group UK & Ireland, says the key to getting people to take notice of great ideas is the interaction between the board and the rest of the business .

"As I'm sure is the case for all CIOs, you have your great ideas coming from the board that flow down, and I have smart ideas that I want to push up – and it's a really open channel," he says.

SEE: What is digital transformation? Everything you need to know about how technology is reshaping business

Braithwaite attends the company's operational board every week and gets to talk about some of the things the IT team is doing now and what it would like to do next. Once again, the conversations take place on a two-way basis – and the board is receptive to the areas that the IT team is keen to explore.

"It's a really open door – I'm not pushing on something that's closed. Compass is excited about investing in technology, and is seeing a return from that investment. From my perspective, it's a really good relationship that we have with our board," he says.

"There's no doubt people want to know that we're spending the money wisely. But there's real appetite to leverage technology and innovation. And as you drop one project and it works – and you've done what you said you would, and it's given the return that you thought it would – then that makes it much easier to have your next conversation about, 'can I have some money to try this idea?'"

2. Focus on broader strategic aims to build cross-business trust

Nicki Doble, group CIO at insurance company Cover-More Group, says CIOs who want to get their smart digital ideas noticed should avoid talking about technology at all costs.

Rather than focusing on bits and bytes, CIOs must link any technology idea they have to the wider business strategy. So whether you're showing how an investment in cybersecurity could help reduce risk or how explorations in AI could lead to new customer insights from data, the focus must be on the business' bigger strategic goals.

Doble says this strategic focus helps prove the value of the IT team to the wider business. Selling great ideas is easier once you've proven your value – and the team benefits, too.

"So rather than thinking about how you can get your ideas noticed, focus on how you promote your team so that they're seen as incredibly valuable. It's a no-brainer for me. Your team loves you for doing it, you get the recognition that you're wanting because your team is doing great things, and then you get loyalty from your team as well."

3. Get your trusted peers to sell smart ideas on your behalf

Karl Hoods, chief digital and information officer at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, says he runs a range of sessions to help great ideas bubble up to the surface.

Hoods runs weekly huddles where the topics for discussion are curated by the wider team. He also runs an open-door session once a month, so people can book 15 minutes to sit and chat about anything they want. Finally, Hoods encourages people to make time each week to come up with new ideas and to research creative areas.

SEE: Digital transformation: Two CIOs explain how to make it work

When it comes to getting ideas noticed higher up the organisation, Hoods says it's important to find the right way to showcase the best of your team's ideas. He says the traditional approach is to find detractors and supporters: "Hit them both and get them to do the talking on your behalf."

Equally, he enjoys a strong working relationship with his bosses. He says one effective tactic is to use the strength of this bond to sell new ideas to other senior executives in other parts of the organisation: "I arm them with the information and get them to do some of the promotion on my behalf."

4. Get people to think as if they're investing their own cash

Dal Virdi, IT director at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, says his organisation always encourages people to come up with new ideas – and it's an approach that permeates through the team structure, the meetings that take place with other business units, and right up to their interactions with the chief executive and the board.

The best ideas are pitched in front of senior staheolders in the firm to show how they might work and how they would improve business operations. Virdi says everyone within the IT team has the opportunity to come up with new ideas – and he's keen to keep the process going.

"I think there's a sweet spot in terms of getting people to think outside of their comfort zones – getting them to think a bit more widely than they do on a day-to-day basis and to consider how they could do things differently," he says.

"It's all about getting them to ask, 'If it was my own money, what would I do?' It's easy spending the firm's money and asking for lots of investment. But if it was your own firm and your own money, would you do it the same way, or would you think about doing it in a different way?"

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