Ciena CIO: 4 ways to increase IT's strategic value

One tip: Sell more bagels
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Now is the time for CIOs to make a significant impact on the organization and showcase the value of IT on business results. IT leaders today strive to demonstrate this value by establishing the IT department’s link to revenue recognition and overall company success. But how can you best go about doing this? 

[See proven examples of IT-led revenue generating initiatives in our strategy snapshot series.]

The first phase involves two pieces; the first is to forge strong relationships across all levels of the organization, from your peers within executive management all the way to your IT support staff. Building advocates for your most strategic initiatives is imperative to attaining the goals you set.  

The next piece involves identifying or creating the company’s competitive advantage in its market. Whether that is leveraging analytics to arm decision makers with crucial insights to make better business decisions, or implementing a platform to deliver content to customers quickly and cost efficiently, discovering this advantage enables the company to run faster and stronger. 

However, this is just the start. Here are four other lessons I’ve learned along the way that have been essential to increasing IT’s strategic value: 

  • It starts with talent: My top operating priority is developing our internal talent and making sure that everything we do has demonstrated value through our employees. At Ciena, our vision is for IT to become the organization’s competitive advantage, by providing technology solutions that have a visible and measurable impact on the business. The only way we can achieve this is by having a great team that is focused on problem-solving. First, invest in your people; second, understand the business problems; and third, align your talent to the business problems.
  • Culture is not static:  IT culture isn't defined by only one person. There are some aspects of culture I establish, but I also like to let others define aspects of it themselves. Involve your team in defining your IT culture, debate any pros and cons, implement what works for your organization, then, allow it to normalize. It’s also important to re-assess your culture frequently to see what’s missing, what needs to be changed – or possibly refined. You must be bold enough to hold yourself accountable to scrap the pieces that no longer suit your objectives, or start over entirely if needed.
  • Sell more bagels: Yes, you read that right.  Even with IT spending on the rise, most IT leaders understand that IT is an internal business. You need to pay close attention to costs, quality control, and competition, or else trouble finds you faster than you'd think. I try to simplify things for employees and get them to understand that sometimes an IT department can be compared to a bagel shop, like the popular Massachusetts food retailer, Finagle a Bagel. Finagle a Bagel is known for deeply understanding what its customers want. Management then tailors its operating costs, inventory, and resources in its stores around what customers want. Likewise, we must run IT like a business, always keeping our customers at the center of our operations.  
  • A healthy dose of paranoia is good for IT:  Competition in the market spurs innovative thinking; your closest competitor may one day catch you off guard with a new solution. This requires you to stay on your toes by observing what is happening in your industry and whether the initiatives you implement are keeping the business one step ahead of other industry players. There’s nothing like a healthy dose of paranoia to force you to stay keenly aware of the market – and motivate you to implement tools to keep the workforce competitive. Competition isn't necessarily the same as selling widgets, but pretend it is. Be aware of what other companies are doing with IT and try to keep pace. Better yet, stay ahead.

A final thought to IT leaders looking to stand out: Keep listening to your customers. If you’re passionate about people and are open to running the IT division with those customers firmly at the center of your operations, you will quickly demonstrate the IT department’s value and ultimately, your own. 

Craig Williams is Chief Information Officer for Ciena, a network strategy and technology company. He joined Ciena from LinkedIn where he was head of IT. In total, he has more than 25 years of experience spanning multiple diverse industries including high-tech, government/DoD and commercial environments.


I think your list is overall very solid but I would add a fifth way to increase value - I guess that it could be under sell more bagels too. Any-who what I'm talking about is optimizing your internal business by finding out everything your employees are using that is tied to their email work accounts and even their work device.