IT leaders: Use your unique understanding of the business to drive transformation

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There is no question about the increasing relevance of technology to the business. Technology is at the core of every enterprise, and most cannot run without it. There is, however, a question around IT's relevance in the enterprise, and that is entirely dependent on the IT organization’s leadership.

Regardless of where the leadership comes from, technology is going to continue to play a broader role. If IT’s primary contribution is just keeping the lights on or providing Infrastructure-­as­-a­-Service, then leadership will have to come from somewhere else in the business, whether it’s the marketing organization, the finance organization, or the product development organization.

IT has a tremendous opportunity to lead the digital transformation of the enterprise. In the industry, we often hear the phrase “IT and the Business” and this sets the view that IT is not part of the business. I encourage you to shift the language of IT. Consider saying, “Let’s talk about collaborating with our business peers,” or “How can we better work with other business units?” How your IT organization views itself in relationship to the enterprise will have a material impact on innovation and collaboration.

Technology is playing a bigger role in the success of every enterprise. And subsequently, all leaders should be talking in terms of the business impact that it will ultimately have. IT leaders have a huge advantage because they see across all business processes. So the questions CIOs should be asking are: “How do we leverage the unique understanding of the business that IT brings to the table? How do we engage in new ways with our business peers?”

Think about manufacturers in the home electronics space. Years ago, a company like Electrolux never knew its end customer. They didn't have to because they sold products through a reseller network. But almost overnight, their devices were enabled to call home, and analyzing that sensor data gave them new customer insights. Analysis gave them insight, not data.

Finding the disruptive ideas in this shift doesn't stop at monitoring devices. Rather, IT has an opportunity to work with the marketing organization in new ways to drive value to the customer and, ultimately, the business. Without strong leadership in IT, this connection often doesn't happen, and the overall business suffers as a result.

If IT leaders want to be relevant in the digital age,­ whether you’re dealing with sensor data, existing customer data, or existing manufacturing data, ­you have to understand how to apply analytics to answer high ­value business questions. 

Keith Collins, Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer (CIO) at SAS, is passionate about delivering on the promise of Big Analytics as the key to unlocking the potential of Big Data. Prior to becoming CIO at SAS, Keith directed SAS’ Research and Development strategies, including 13 years as Chief Technology Officer.

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