Every company is a technology company because every company uses technology to provide their goods and services. The problem for information technology leaders is that some of our colleagues do not yet understand or perhaps accept that technology is a foundation for all businesses. In my experience, there are three actions businesses and information technology leaders can take to help solve this problem.
1. Executive Endorsement
The first challenge for almost half of all companies is that the information technology leader does not report to the CEO (or President) of the company. According to a report from Deloitte, 46% of Global CIOs report to the CEO and 10% report to the Board. Unfortunately, 44% of information technology leaders report to another executive (CFO: 28%, COO: 11%, Other: 6%). The 44% represent companies that do not understand or accept the importance of information technology for their business.
The functional executives that report to a CEO together provide a comprehensive view of the company. Through these functional lenses, the CEO has clarity into all aspects of the business. When the technology leader does not report to the CEO, however, the CEO will not receive information directly about technology. The CEO is disadvantaged by missing a fundamental view of the business. Instead, the CEO receives indirect information presented through the lens of another functional leader.
The most common example is the information technology leader reporting to the CFO. Such companies usually refer to information technology as a “cost center.” It is no surprise because cost is the lens through which the CFO relays information about technology to the CEO.
If you are an information technology leader working for such a company, I feel your pain because your CEO has a distorted or out-of-focus view of information technology. To fix this problem, change the leadership reporting structure so that the top information technology leader reports directly to the CEO.
2. Focus on Business: 3 Traps to Avoid
This next suggestion is within the control of the information technology leader. There are three common traps we must work to avoid.
The first trap is not spending enough time “in the field.” If you work in retail, then you must spend time in the stores. If you work in construction, you must spend time at the job sites. Take these opportunities to interact with customers and coworkers, who are everyday users of the technology provided by your team. You will gain priceless insights about their challenges.
The second trap is having a narrow focus on the business of information technology instead of the business. This happens especially in companies with larger information technology departments. The result is that the information technology team stops learning and anticipating the needs of the business and instead becomes reactive problem solvers. This causes substantial frustration for the rest of the business who do not believe their technology needs are being met.
The third trap happens when information technology team relies on anecdotes or assumptions to make technology decisions. Applying their logic and analytical skills, people who work in information technology make judgments on behalf of users, instead of engaging and listening carefully to their needs. This results in dire consequences of poorly implemented technology that disadvantages and frustrates users.
3. People Before Technology: 3 Success Factors
Information technology projects cause change for the people that use the technology. Too often, technology teams focus on the technical aspects of the job instead of the people affected by the project. As leaders, we must model for our teams our ability to meet people at their readiness of change. Here are three tips that are effective:
- Listen to your users – The people closest to the problems are best equipped to tell you about them and offer ideas to solve them. When we partner with and listen to people, the projects are successful.
- Be social – Identify the connectors in your business that can spread good ideas and be a resource to help coworkers get the most out of the technology investment. For some companies, internal social media can aid (but not replace) this effort.
- Be clear on the WHY – When people understand the reason behind a technology change, they are more likely to adopt it. Leaders must communicate the WHY of a project more than they think is necessary or reasonable. It is important that the project team takes no step, solution, or process as “common knowledge.” Instead, take the time to tell, explain, and show.
All business are technology companies. To gain the most benefit from your technology team and investments, be sure that your information technology leader reports to the president, ensure that the technology team focuses on the needs of the business, and put people ahead of technology.