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IT: Don't let the CEO wonder what you do all day

Minda Zetlin | Nov. 19, 2013
If there's no catastrophic system failure or major software deployment to work on, CEOs might wonder what IT does all day. Here's how to make sure your contributions aren't undervalued when things go smoothly.

In fact, Chris Curran, principal and chief technologist at PwC, says that you should alert the CEO to IT's accomplishments only when there's a specific benefit the CEO would value. "It will seem interesting to the business only if you can, say, demonstrate that integration after a merger saved 20% of operating expenses," he says.

When bad things don't happen
Explaining business value to CFOs and CEOs gets more challenging when that value is the reduced or eliminated risk of a business-impacting technology failure. But it's important to make the effort. "The onus is on the CIO to translate those risks you've identified and make a compelling case as to what the risk is to the business," Dolisy says. "What is the impact to the rest of the organization if these things are not taken care of?"

Dolisy notes that as a CTO who also functions as CIO, he's in a good position to understand the direct financial impact on SolarWinds if an IT system fails. "I have a rough estimate of the costs in terms of downloads and conversions if some of those systems are down," he says. "That's the only successful strategy -— to really understand what the value of the technology working is to the business so you can translate those technical risks and express them in the business's language."

Whatever the benefit you're trying to convey, Vitale advises seeking professional help in getting your message across. "You can leverage your existing assets internally," he says. "The corporate communications group within an organization is very powerful, and I would encourage IT leaders to be very familiar with the people in it," he says. "They usually handle internal as well as external communications, and they're only a step away from the C-level executives."

To take full advantage of this communication channel, Vitale recommends submitting regular "pseudo news releases" to the corporate communications department telling them about IT's activities. "Any mature organization has a number of ways to distribute this information internally, including intranet sites and even email blasts," he says. "If your company uses social intranet software such as Jive, Salesforce Company Communities, Podio, etc., it's a no-brainer that you should stay active on these sites."

What if your company doesn't have an intranet or internal social network? "Sounds like a great project for IT," he says.

Meeting higher expectations
While it's important to highlight the value of infrastructure maintenance and keep-the-lights-on projects that prevent bad things from happening, today's CIOs must also recognize that the rules of the game have changed. The great CIO that Handler was asked to help fire because everything was working fine? "That was the story circa 1994," he says. "In 2000, about 70% of IT organizations were viewed as a necessary evil. Today, only 7% are seen that way, and 90% of senior non-IT leaders view IT as important to the business. People expect you to deliver change."


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