IT metrics lessons learned: 3 tips

Not all technology metrics are created equal. CIOs share advice on how to shape meaningful metrics that connect to business outcomes - and use storytelling to showcase IT's value
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Your technology metrics could all appear to be on an upward trajectory, but if you aren’t measuring what matters, or if those numbers aren’t meaningful to key stakeholders, you’ll likely have trouble proving the value and impact of your IT organization.

We asked CIOs who recently won the 2021 Kansas City CIO of the Year ORBIE Awards for their best IT metrics lessons learned during the course of their careers. The awards were presented by the Kansas City CIO Leadership Association, a professional community that annually recognizes CIOs for their excellence in technology leadership.

How to improve IT metrics 

From understanding your audience to using empathy, read on for their advice for other IT leaders.

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1. Have two sets of IT metrics - internal and external

Large Enterprise CIO of the Year

Bill Graff

Bill Graff, SVP & CIO, Cerner Corporation: To show IT’s real value to the organization, you need two sets of metrics. One internal-facing set focused on how you run your business on a day-to-day basis. This should include metrics such as turnaround time on support tickets, vulnerability remediation, budget adherence, and uptime/availability. The other set of metrics is external-facing. These metrics describe how the consumers are using your services, their satisfaction, and how they add to the company’s bottom line. The organization doesn’t want to hear about technology for technology’s sake. Instead, they want to know how you are helping improve the bottom line - for instance, labor savings through automation, impact on revenue, security posture showing the company is in a good position to protect their assets, and customer/client/employee data.

To ensure these metrics are meaningful, it’s important to develop deep partnerships with the business. In today’s world, your business leaders look at you and your team as a service provider. Being part of the company provides some advantage, but increasingly, companies are turning to SaaS solutions and hiring individual IT staff on their own to get what they perceive is a more rapid, cost effective solution. Think of yourself as an owner of an IT company competing for your company’s business every day, finding a way to stay in the value chain. This could mean your job is completely different two years from now if you do this right. It’s not an easy journey, and your team will want to fall back to what is comfortable and known, but this is how to remain relevant and valuable to your company.

2. Connect each metric to meaning and real-world examples

Large Corporate CIO of the Year

Jason Kephart

Jason Kephart, CIO, Terracon Consultants: IT has the stigma of overwhelming messages with acronyms, numbers, statistics, etc. IT leaders often use their own technology vernacular, which does not always communicate the desired message in the context of the audience. I think it is critical to have a good handle on metrics the business can relate to: uptime, availability, time to respond, time to resolve – things that are meaningful in the context of your organization’s ability for employees or clients to provide services.

When discussing IT’s real value to the organization, don’t fall into the trap of trying to justify IT’s existence. Your leadership should know, 100 percent of the time, if the money invested in IT services and staff are contributing to the growth, continued operations, and protection of the organization. Tie technology investments directly to business outcomes, innovation that differentiates your company from the competition, or empowers your organization’s employees to do their job effectively. And always pair any numerical metrics with real world examples that your business counterparts, leadership teams, and employees can understand. For instance: a 1 percent increase in “Metric X” means a Y percent increase in “Business Metric Y.”  

3. Use storytelling and empathy to show the impact of technology

Nonprofit/Public Sector CIO of the Year

Rob Dickson

Rob Dickson, CIO, Wichita Public Schools: One of the challenges an IT person must tackle is awareness. Your leadership team might be constructed of individuals with a wide variety of digital literacy skills, so it’s important for data to tell a story. That story must impact the business value, meet people where they are, and be meaningful at an emotional level. Every day I am engaging in conversations with stakeholders inside and outside the organization to tell the story about the impact of technology in the classroom. That story can be shared internally, with leadership, or externally, with mediums such as social media. 

To get your story right, become a lifelong learner. Make sure that the technology you are investing in plays a part in the journey of your organization. This involves some empathy with your users and/or customers. Many times, we flow back and forth in the procurement process and forget to put in the right measurements of where that technology helps shape the change that is happening. Don’t become stagnant or believe that you are always right about where technology is heading.

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free eBook: Managing IT with Automation. ]

Carla Rudder is a community manager and editor for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.  

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