Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Five Habits of Highly Effective IT Organizations

L. Venkatraman, VP - Value Engineering and CIO Services, Mainstay

If you work in an IT organization, here's a real-world story you will be all too familiar with. A large hi-tech consumer goods company with over 40,000 employees and 100 global locations rolled out an enterprise-wide upgrade to Windows 10. Despite facing a super-tight budget and an impossible deadline, the IT team came through. The rollout achieved almost 100% user adoption, with IT going above and beyond to maintain great service levels.

Success story? No doubt about it -- if you talked to the IT folks.

But then the IT team sat down with the COO. As the VP of IT went through slide after slide of impressive metrics on budget, timelines, and adoption, the COO stopped him in his tracks with a single question:

"Why the hell does this matter to our company?"

Talk about a rude awakening. But the question was spot on: IT was not adequately communicating the "so-what" of IT initiatives in a language that business people could understand. Not only on this project, but across the board.

This is a real missed opportunity for IT. Why? Because in the age of IoT, where new technologies like telematic and sensor data, AI, big data, and robotic automation are transforming businesses, IT has never been in a better position to add tremendous new value to the enterprise. For the first time, IT organizations can become true strategic enablers for their company -- if only they can effectively quantify and communicate the business value they can generate for the rest of the organization.

A survey in the latest Gartner CIO Agenda report1 shows that IT-business alignment and budgeting issues are the top barriers to IT becoming a “resilient” organization. The Pulse of the Profession report2 by the Project Management Institute backed up these findings: 37% of the respondents said they lacked clearly defined objectives to measure progress; another 37% suffered from poor communication; and 9% had insufficient funding. The report suggested that because of these shortcomings, 28% of strategic IT initiatives were deemed outright failures.

Why can’t IT overcome these barriers?

In our experience working with CIOs, IT organizations that learn to become strategic enablers practice the following five habits:

1.      Prepare a formal business case before launching your IT initiative. This means clearly forecasting business outcomes, such as increasing revenue, decreasing cost, improving productivity, creating competitive differentiation, and enhancing customer satisfaction
2.      Communicate how those outcomes will be delivered, and what features will drive them. Developing realistic use cases, highlighting specific business processes, and clearly describing how features will improve them – all these things will lend credibility to your claim of adding business value.
3.      After the project, measure and report the actual value delivered. In our experience, we find that while a majority of IT organizations prepare formal business cases for their IT investments, very few of them track and report the value from those investments in a quantifiable manner that highlights the business impact of the project.
4.      Communicate, communicate, communicate. Use all the modern methods of communication (and some traditional ones) to get your message across, including in-person meetings, emails, posters, intranet sites, social media, QBRs, and more.
5.      Keep it brief and use a lot of visuals. Research by HubSpot3 indicates that when people only listen to information, they retain only 10% of it three days later. But when that same information is presented visually, retention jumps to 65%. Remember to keep your visuals simple. Too much information can become a distraction.

Sure, there are some IT organizations out there that leverage a few of these techniques. But it’s hard for most organizations to make a habit out of doing all of them well. They need to learn to turn all five habits into a repeatable practice backed by set processes, frameworks, templates, tools and guidelines.

So how do you make these five habits stick? How can you create a program for business value communication that consistently makes your business leaders go “Ah-ha!”?

Put another way, how should the VP of IT have responded to the skeptical COO’s pointed question about the Windows 10 upgrade?

If you work for an IT organization, I’m sure you have some great ideas, and I’d like to hear from you.

In my next blog, I'll outline some of the things leading CIOs are doing to instill these habits across their teams.

Stay tuned.

1 http://www.gartner.com/imagesrv/cio/pdf/Gartner_CIO_Agenda_2017.pdf
2 https://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/learning/thought-leadership/pulse/pulse-of-the-profession-2017.pdf

3 https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/power-of-visual-communication-infographic


  1. Well written article.. agree that for most Fortune 500 CIO's Business Value of IT and Business/IT alignment still remains strong focus areas..

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