02 Mar Fusion 2007: Making the business case for technology
Madison, Wis. – Information technology decisions can be made in a vacuum, or as part of an IT-business alignment process, but companies that treat IT as a frills part of the organization are more likely to suffer expensive failures, according to information technology executives attending the 2007 CEO-CIO Fusion Symposium.
This link between IT and business mission was one of several themes presented during symposium, and it’s a link that has grown stronger as the CEO-CIO relationship has grown in importance.
David Wittwer, chief executive officer of TDS Telecom, addressed the symposium on the subject of leveraging the business value of technology, but he was one of several who weighed in on the value of proactive and business-savvy CIOs.
Wittwer prefers chief technology officers that combine technical know-how with an understanding of the business, a combination of skills and acumen that increases the chances that IT solutions will add business value.
CIOs that want a seat at the table better not be reactive, Wittwer said, but bring ideas with business value to upper management.
“If you wait for someone to ask you, you’re not doing your job,” he said.
When they do approach upper management, technology officers should bring alternatives with different levels of risk assigned to them so that management can pinpoint solutions with tolerable levels of risk.
Wittwer expects technologists to present realistic solutions – nothing should be a “throw-away” option – whether they are designed to improve the customer experience, stimulate sales, or reduce cost.
“You have got to have that kind of relationship where you share those different alternatives,” Wittwer said.
TDS Telecom, which is transforming itself from a phone to a broadband company, devoted considerable time last year to designing a multi-year information technology blueprint. The 16-day process, which was driven by TDS’ internal business partners, identified the projects that must be accomplished over the next several years.
In addition, the blueprint could have a labor benefit. “What’s really enabling is that we created a schedule of business cases that we now have to prepare,” said Leslie Hearn, vice president and CEO for TDS Telecom, who came to information services from the business side of the organization. “We did this so we would get out of the order-taking approach to IT, but also to address a shortage of talent.
“By having a blueprint, it gave us a roadmap to say `what kind of talent do we need to execute the projects on this map?’”
Brian Brylow, managing director and chief technology officer of Robert W. Baird & Co., said project governance at the wealth management firm requires business units to produce business cases for information technology.
Baird has developed a scenario in which business units either come up with a business case or the company won’t even consider the project. Brylow got IT involved in the business units to serve as advisors, even coaches, in the crafting of business cases.
The approach has produced a key benefit in a company that operates in a heavily regulated environment. “We created huge alignment gains between IT and the business units that really is a partnership,” Brylow said. “It’s looked upon as a great business enabler.”
Mike Jackson, vice president of global business services and CIO of Rockwell Automation, indicated the company, as part of its global SAP implementation, has found another way to merge technology and business acumen – collaboration.
At the top of the SAP work stream is one of Jackson’s best technologists and one of the company’s best business people. They will be the key innovators on the project, and will be expected to set high standards with their understanding of the technology and business links, Jackson said.
Pulling the plug
The most difficult decision in a technology implementation, Wittwer said, is having the discipline to pull the plug on a project that is not creating the anticipated business value.
“I think that’s one of the most important things you can do,” he stated. “If you can’t pull the plug, you’re too risk averse.”
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