CIOs Told to Make Conspicuous Contribution to Revenue

By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2007-10-11 Print this article Print

Being aligned with the business is no longer enough, attendees learn at annual Gartner conference. You need to make sure everyone knows about it.

Every year, thousands of information technologists gather in Orlando to hear Gartner Inc. analysts tell them that information technology should be aligned with business. Gartner always comes up with a new twist on the message, but the message never goes away.

At the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo conference going on this week in Orlando, some 6,000 attendees are hearing that they particularly need to be aligned with the revenue side of business to avoid being treated as a cost that can be cut in an economic downturn. They heard it from a parade of analysts at the kick-off session on Monday, and they heard it again from a panel of chief information officers who talked about what has worked for them.

Gartner says the message is particularly critical now that economic trends, such as the credit crunch connected to the collapse of the housing market, suggest that IT people need to brace themselves for another round of cost cutting.

Gartner says that IT spending will rise 8% this year to $3.1 trillion, but also predicts that growth will slow to 5.5 percent in 2008. And that might be optimistic. Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president and global head of Research at Gartner, said IT leaders should create two IT budgets for 2008, with Plan B outlining where to cut in the event of a recession. If that happens, the IT organizations that don't want to be gutted need to be able to demonstrate the value of what they do for the company.

"In 2008, your goal should be to stamp out generic IT," said Mark P. McDonald, group vice president for Gartner's executive programs.

In other words, you have to work harder at making sure IT initiatives are strongly identified with priorities like attracting and retaining customers and generating revenue, not simply providing basic functions. Otherwise, when the CEO and CFO want to cut costs and raise profits, "if you have generic IT, they're not going to be sure what they're going to lose."

So that's this year's twist: not only should IT and business be aligned, but IT needs to be aligned with initiatives that really make a difference for the business. In fact, McDonald argues that technology leaders should try to get out of the habit of talking about "IT and the business" as two different things and try to define IT as an integral part of the business.

Sticking to this linguistic slight of hand proved difficult for the participants in a "partnership for performance CIO Keynote panel" on Tuesday. This was an on-stage interview featuring Leslie Brennan of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Leo Genders of the Ohio Board of Workman's Compensation, Michael Goodwin of Hallmark Cards, and Patricia Graham of Centerpoint Energy.

Although all four said they had been successful getting that coveted "seat at the table" with the CEO, they also said they are continually challenged to prove they deserve it. "You get the right to play in the business space when you've earned the right to play in the business space, and not before," Genders said. A CIO needs to prove himself all over again "every time something changes," he says.

As government CIOs, he and Brennan say they have to reestablish their leadership credentials every time a new administration takes power.

Brennan says that she was initially concerned when the new commissioner, who is effectively her CEO, began his tenure by interviewing all the other department heads-but not her. That was in April, when Pete Grannis, a state legislator who had been active on environmental issues, was named to the job.

Her response was to network intensively with all the other people whom the commissioner was quicker to invite into his inner circle. Besides making sure they understood what IT could do to make them more effective, she got a lot of information from those who knew Grannis better about how to approach him. Ultimately, many of those management peers told him that he needed to talk to her, she says, "and I really got to hone my message by the time I got to the CEO."

When she showed him her budget, she says, "I put everything into three buckets: risk reduction, operational efficiency, and mission enhancement —which is what he really cared about —and got him to understand that we need investments in those other areas in order to get to that." Next: CIO vs. CEO Attitudes

David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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