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BLOG: Running IT like a business

Martha Heller | Nov. 7, 2013
Interview with Rob Webb, former CIO of Hilton Worldwide and CEO of the TBM Council

A few weeks ago, I caught up with Robert Webb, former CIO of Hilton Worldwide and Equifax before that.  Rob has recently been named CEO of TBM (Technology Business Management Council ), a non-profit organization of CIOs who work together to define a decision-making framework and set of best practices for running IT as a business.  Rob, along with CIOs including Tim Campos of Facebook, Mike Benson of DIRECTV, and Larry Godec of First American, came together in 2012 to help CIOs improve their ability to provide value to their businesses.

What do you see as the single most pressing issue currently facing CIOs?
The pace of technology innovation is accelerating, and with it comes a broad democratization of technologies. This means that business executives can buy new technology directly from vendors, which jeopardizes a company's ability to take an integrated approach to its technology investment strategy.

The real challenges is that CEOs and business unit presidents tend to see all of the promise of new technology investments, but they don't see the challenges that lie in operationalizing that technology. They only get part of the story.  Suppliers tend only to talk about the benefits of their technologies, not the hard work and complexity associated with migration from the current to future state.   The days of suppliers going around IT to sell to the business must come to an end.

The single most pressing issue facing CIOs, therefore, lies in their ability to create "oneness" with their functional peers.  In many companies, functional leaders differ in their perspective on the right direction for technology; they are not on the same page.  The onus is on the CIO to take full responsibility for that conversation and to communicate in a way that allows that business peers to understand the trade-offs and benefits of investment options.

CIOs must be mindful of governance, data management, information security, and how cloud fits into their overall architecture.  This means that the CIO has to lead "rate of investment" discussions around, for example, how quickly the company will embrace the cloud.  The question then becomes:  how are you measuring your rate of investment in cloud versus on-premise?  What is your strategy for moving to the cloud?  What services will move first, second and third?

We have been talking about CIOs' need to talk about technology in business terms for a long time now.  Why does this continue to be so challenging?
When we look at ourselves as an IT profession, we have to realize that we have not yet come far enough in our knowledge of finance.  We need to partner with business executives, but without a common knowledge, a lingua franca shared among all of the company's executives, we will not get there. Without a common measurement for costs, services and performance, we are really talking about apples, oranges and grapes.  And while it would be great if other functional leaders would learn the language of IT, it is not going to happen. IT needs to take 100 percent responsibility for communication around expenses and investments.


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