SAS CIO: 3 ways IT can bring more value to the business

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When I became a CIO, my team and I talked about the value we would bring to our business. I thought it was incumbent on us to figure out how to attach ourselves to the company’s business goals. And to do this effectively, we needed three things: business understanding, insight into emerging trends, and the ability to ask the questions that would lead us to the best possible solutions. 

We needed to get closer.

Know your business in depth

I believe if an IT team is going to add value, it must understand the business in depth. The CIOs I admire have learned the business well enough to articulate the problems they’re solving in terms the business itself uses. For example, the CIO of Disney Parks explained the network investments they needed by describing the network in terms of the park’s tram system. It was an example the park executives could easily grasp.

You can’t wait for business peers to engage you. Move closer to them. I spend at least 30 percent of my time actively engaged in customer visits and sales engagements. I share my experiences with IT so they can understand our customers’ issues, how they perceive the market, and how we help them solve problems. 

Gain insights into trends

It’s also important to understand technology advancements and how they will affect your business. To gain those insights myself, I participate in conversations about emerging technologies across a variety of industries. This allows me to develop a sense for how quickly the adoption curve is changing and the implications for my company. Right now we’re focused on bringing value to IoT. I’m working with my team to transform the way we manage and ingest data. These technologies become more tangible to the IT team because they have real customer examples to consider.  


With IoT there are a lot of challenges involved in data collection, data transformation, and data quality analysis to arrive at the desired business outcome. It’s key to understand how data flows and how you plan to manage that data. Know what’s important to keep and what to discard, not because it’s useless but because you have determined if is correlated and therefore redundant.   

We all live in a budget cycle. The challenge for many CIOs is building a business case, and getting it into the budget cycle. Doing so requires proof of concept work to ensure you can execute. A culture of experimenting, failing fast, and understanding the dollar value impact puts you in position to drive digital transformation.

Understand the art of the possible

The third piece of this equation is building a team that understands the art of the possible and asks the right questions.

With sensors, for example, CIOs and their teams must think about what they mean for their applications long term. Today we have applications capturing data, we extract the data, we do post analysis, and then use the insights to adjust the process. In the future, we’ll embed analytics directly into the systems so the applications themselves autocorrect and adjust. Your app and BI teams will need to change their mindset and roles to enable this transformation.

If you’re a CIO who wants to transform your business, it’s imperative the IT team has a broad view of technology and your business. It’s equally important for them to have the opportunity to explore new skills and ideas. After all, if you want to take part in the conversation, you need to have people who speak the right language. 

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.