How to grow a business enabler mindset in IT

As CIO, I don’t want someone who is an expert in IoT. I want an expert in logistics, supply chain, and demand planning
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New rules for the CIO

IT has gotten a bad rap in the last few years. We’re in an era of what I call the “smartening of everything.” Smartphone, smart cars, smart store shelves, smart products: Everyone wants to get in on the game, and everyone wants to be an expert. That’s great – except just because you can talk the talk in IT doesn’t mean you can be an innovation expert for the business. Just talking about smart things doesn't make you smart. Smart is just a buzzword.

We need to stop talking about innovation in a vacuum. Instead, we need to start talking about strategic IT and frame the conversations we’re having around bringing in technology for value-added purposes. That’s where the opportunity is, and it can come from anyone or anywhere in the business – not just those in IT.

[ Want CIO wisdom on hybrid cloud and multi-cloud strategy? See our related resource, Hybrid Cloud: The IT leader's guide. ]

That said, I do think IT has an important role to play. We often have the privilege of an end-to-end view of the entire enterprise and every business process. Finance is the only other area that comes close, but I’d argue that their end-to-end view is one foot deep. In IT, we’re six feet deep.

Lead a culture of business enablers

This deep and far-reaching view gives us a unique perspective to really understand where the pain points, touch points, and critical elements are within the business. So, from a culture standpoint, we need people who are change agents and business enablers.

In other words, I don’t want someone who is an expert in IoT. I want someone who’s an expert in logistics, supply chain, demand planning, etc., to be able to intelligently discuss: “How might IoT solve the problems that are unique to our business? How might this streamline our process, shorten our product cycles, allow us to do a better job at demand planning, allow us to do a better job of managing how we build our product?” That’s where the business value lies.

Of course, just getting to the point of having those conversations with the business is the first hurdle. The only way to get there is to consistently deliver on the day-to-day.

Find your credibility builder

Recently I was given a new job, and “business resilience” was tacked onto my title. This piece is really about taking what I know IT has done very well for years and re-framing it in terms of business continuity, physical safety, security, and operational risk management. I think this is a huge opportunity for other business leaders to take the things we do well in IT – like battling fires – and applying them to the business process side. It’s a credibility builder.

As an example, we have manufacturing facilities in areas prone to earthquakes and tornadoes. From a safety standpoint, we’re very aware of potential disruptions to our business, and we need to ensure resilience despite those events. Communicating the significance of the work we do in IT and how it enables the business to operate on a day-to-day basis reinforces the value we provide. And it positions us to be the change agents we need to be when opportunities for technology innovation arise.

Another way to get there is to figure out the core competencies needed in IT in order to meet the goal of being a business enabler. Again, we’re a manufacturing company – we manufacture vitamins – but we aspire to be a health and wellness company. So, when I have the opportunity to invest in my people, I’m looking for folks with the elements and skills we need to ultimately achieve that goal. We’re also building teams and retraining existing staff to support that goal.

For CIOs who are trying to change the perception of IT from an order taker to a business enabler, I’d reinforce that everything you do must map back to business value – from how you communicate problems and solutions, to delivering consistently on the day-to-day, to hiring for the skills needed to achieve business outcomes. It’s a proven formula that’s worked for me.

Brian Beams joined Pharmavite in June 2010 and is responsible for determining the strategic direction of the company’s IT solutions, infrastructure and technology operations, as well as the company’s customer and consumer-facing technologies.

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