I believe there has never been a better, more exciting time to be a CIO. Running IT is no longer just about making sure your systems are reliable, available, and at the lowest cost. These days, IT enables everything a business does. I see IT as the weapon to truly increase the speed of business.
What does that mean for today’s CIO? It means you’ve got to be focused on what you can do to make the business more competitive and move faster. It means IT must not only be an enabler to business processes, but also an enabler to new processes that you can sell to your customers.
When I was at GE, we worked closely with each of the business functions to really understand their processes and see how we could align our teams, our goals, and our objectives to simplify, streamline, and speed up those processes. And I’ve got to tell you, it was easy to do because, in today’s day and age, IT truly does enable everything. The bigger challenge was prioritizing what to do and in what order to do it in.
The power of transparency and getting specific
An approach I took at GE that was different, as fundamental as it sounds, was simply sit down with each of the functional leaders and the P&L leaders, with no agenda, and ask them these questions:
“What do you like about IT? What do you dislike about IT? And what can IT do to make you more successful?”
I quickly learned that IT had developed a reputation as the “no function.” Everyone told me: “You put in your IT project request at the beginning of a budget year and it goes in this big, black hole. Then out comes a project that will cost X amount of money and it will take two to three years. Everything seems to take two to three years. And then eventually IT prioritizes the deck, and sometimes your project goes away altogether.”
Based on that candid feedback, we compiled a list of things IT needed to do differently and better. I decided we had to get away from these “two-to-three-year projects” and talk about what IT is going to deliver this quarter. We would still have the long term targets to work toward, but we needed to introduce transparency and get specific about what the function leaders were going to get this month and this quarter, not what they were going to get two or three years from now.
The importance of holding IT accountable
We did this by meeting with the CIOs and laying out some very clear, very aggressive goals and objectives. We developed a clear strategy for IT that aligned with the business strategy, and it was all about enabling business processes. It was all about increasing speed and simplification and competitiveness. We made sure the goals were very specific, such as taking the number of general ledgers from X to X, for example. We used Lean and Agile techniques to deliver faster.
Once we set those aggressive goals, we published them and told each of the functional leaders and the P&L leaders: “This is what we’re going to deliver to you. We’re going to hold ourselves accountable. We’re going to measure ourselves to this, and we’re going to tell you how we’re doing.” As simple as that sounds, it was a game changer because it showed those leaders that we heard them, that we were adjusting our plan, and that we were committed to holding ourselves accountable while also being very transparent about our progress. It was an enormous change that really helped put us on the same page as the business.
It also held us accountable. Each CIO of businesses knew what they had to do. We shared the plan with our chairman. We aligned our budget to it. And I’ll tell you, it was hard. Doing this is a journey. But that simple, basic task made sure that we were strategically aligned with what mattered, and that we were held accountable. It made all the difference.
Enabling new money-making opportunities
IT isn’t only an enabler to business processes, it’s also an enabler to new processes that can be sold to customers. IT can help create new revenue streams for the business. As a CIO, I constantly thought about potential new revenue opportunities. It’s important that CIOs challenge the business P&L leaders to think about new revenue models, new software-as-a-service models, etc. Work with business leaders to identify ways to turn your data into a more powerful weapon. Thinking about those possibilities actually makes IT a hell of a lot more fun than it used to be.
This kind of collaboration with the business has the potential to take your entire organization to the next level. But to get there, CIOs must have a firm understanding of how the business makes money and how they can partner with the business to improve the processes that drive revenue. By doing so, both you and your IT community can help enable what the company is trying to achieve. And at the end of the day, making sure what your people are working on ties to business results is everything.
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Charlene Begley served in various capacities at General Electric from 1988 through December 2013. Most recently, she served in a dual role as Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, as well as the President and Chief Executive Officer of GE’s Home and Business Solutions business from January 2010 through December 2013. Begley served as President and Chief Executive Officer of GE Enterprise Solutions from August 2007 through December 2009. During her career at GE, she served as President and Chief Executive Officer of GE Plastics and GE Transportation, led GE’s Corporate Audit staff and served as the Chief Financial Officer for GE Transportation and GE Plastics Europe and India. Begley is currently a director and member of the audit committee of The NASDAQ OMX Group. Inc. (NASDAQ: NDAQ), a global exchange group that delivers trading, clearing, exchange technology, regulatory, securities listing, and public company services, and is a director and member of the audit and nomination and governance committees of WPP plc (NASDAQ: WPPGY), a provider of marketing communications services globally. In 2014, Begley was appointed to the Red Hat Board of Directors. She serves on the Audit Committee and the Nominating and Governance Committee.