Increasing IT's speed: 3 levers CIOs can use

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IT organizations have to empower change at a transformational pace, and there are two important elements involved in making that happen. You must have a strategic plan and vision, and that vision has to stretch the envelope in terms of what’s possible with digital technology. Secondly, you need alignment. Alignment, to me, means getting the community involved in setting goals, tying your organizational structure and training approach to your vision, all the way to aligning compensation to your strategic plan. I’d argue that the alignment piece is the more important of the two. Here’s how we made it a priority.

When you look at the resources that any manager controls, they are time, space, people, and money. You have to align all of these resources to move at an exponential pace and to innovate during a time of transformational change.


Alignment around time means that we’re focused on the projects that make the biggest difference to our customers, not projects for the back office or IT for IT’s sake. When I came into my role two years ago, we rolled out a crowdsourcing site to try to capture the priorities of the community. We wanted to know: what could we do to empower greatness in our people to allow them to tackle and solve the most difficult problems in the world?

The site was a tremendous success, with over 100 ideas, 800 comments, and thousands of votes within my first 100 days on the job. We leveraged those ideas to deliver lots of quick wins to the customer – things that either generated new revenue or solved problems that stood in the way of generating revenue. The ideas we couldn’t tackle quickly rolled into an extensive engagement with 14 town hall meetings, a strategic plan, and the ultimate goal to complete those projects over the next three years.

Now we’ve got a strategic plan that the everyone helped to create, and we are all aligned around a common vision. We even created a pithy YouTube video so folks could understand how all the pieces fit together. We also rolled out a whole new HR system to track performance against the strategic plan. We make sure people receive feedback and have the appropriate resources to accomplish those projects, and we hold them accountable to make sure things are taken care of. That’s how we achieve alignment of our time on the projects that really make the biggest difference.


Alignment around people means ensuring teams are optimized to meet customer expectations. If you have an organizational chart that is five years old, then you’re moving at a five-year innovation cycle. Instead, every 12 to 18 months, you should evaluate whether you need to realign your organizational chart and your structure with the most important projects you are working on.  

If you have an organizational chart that is five years old, then you’re moving at a five-year innovation cycle.

Surprisingly, this doesn’t have to mean chaos. For instance, we have recently assembled a new mobile team, a new high-performance computing team, and a new data team. These teams are all aligned with customer expectations and strategic imperatives for our organization. The community has spoken up to say, “We need these things done,” and, therefore, it wasn’t a hard sell to realign bodies against those tasks.

Further, all of our employees have training plans, and they all have goals tied back to the strategic plan, which incentivizes them to align themselves against the most pressing tasks. An increasing number of our employees also have compensation packages tied to the strategic plan. That brings me to my next resource – money.


Typically, in a more traditional approach to HR, salaries are negotiated. As an employee, you may or may not get any merit pay raises or inflation pay raises. And often, if you want a pay raise, you have to change jobs. As a result, in previous roles, I’ve had employees who didn’t want to leave my organization, but who saw it as their only option to leave for a few years, then come back and apply for a different position in order to get a raise. It was not an ideal situation for the employee, and it was disruptive to my IT organization.

At UAB, we made it a point to rethink the compensation package. Part of that package is discretionary, enabling us to incentivize alignment with the common vision, performance, and accountability. This is a common approach in the commercial sector, but not common in higher education.

The same is true for our IT budget. We’ve gone through and made sure that our budget is aligned with our goals and strategic plan. And where we had gaps, we’ve gone back and asked for additional resources. We’ve been very successful in garnishing those additional resources because of the quick wins that allowed us to generate revenue for the organization.

Alignment from goal setting all the way through compensation is absolutely essential to achieving change at the transformational pace needed in today’s IT environment. If you want to find ways to move faster, I urge you to take a closer look at these key resources in your control.

Curtis A. Carver Jr., Ph.D. is the Vice President and Chief Information Officer for the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In this role servant leader and enabler of others, he leads a team of dedicated professionals focused on providing solution to the UAB through world-class IT with a focus on innovation, agility and cost efficiency.