Create Business Value!

Today's IT Leaders need to know the business.

April, 2011


Creating business value has never been more paramount than it is today. Our economic environment demands that we continuously innovate and find ways to invent new wealth. Applying technology smartly in the enterprise can bring about that value. Technology's role in the business has changed so much in our lifetimes. Back in the day, technology was primarily used centrally as a tool to convert data into information (remember we used to call it "Data Processing"). It represented a huge commitment of capital, but we could get orders and materials to the manufacturing floor, billing to our Customers, checks to our Suppliers, and transactions into the ledger. In other words, technology began to enable our business. In those days, we learned quickly that technology could yield tremendous efficiencies and quickly took out cost. Today you will not find a business process untouched by technology.

The changing role of technology in the enterprise has given birth to a new breed of technology leadership. In the data processing era, technical people were pretty far removed from the business. Data was keyed, a batch program ran against it, and some large, loud machine printed the output. And that was that. We weren't concerned with such trivial things as marketing, product development, forecasts, sales, or customer service. Call us when a red line shows up on the batch console. Today's technology leader is more than just engaged in the aforementioned business processes, he makes them possible. Marketing has been revolutionized by social media and business intelligence. Advertising and sales are enabled by the Internet and mobility. Customer Service demands that we make use of web-based, self-service technologies to satisfy the appetite of instant-gratification those very technologies have spawned.

The contemporary enterprise has come to realize this changing role and is aligning its strategy accordingly. Today's CIO is a C-Level player on the senior leadership team (rather than reporting up through Finance), participating in the earliest activities of Marketing, and devising strategies to position the business for the future. This means the CIO is no longer just a computer geek. Their backgrounds are increasingly peppered with a combination of business roles that include sales, operations, service delivery, and heavy customer delight. Indeed, today's CIOs can ill afford to surround themselves exclusively with geeks as was the case back in the day. We must be embedded as part the business, and our information technology team has to consist of business-first, technology-savvy innovators.

I led a complex technology project for a large transportation company that transferred control of the logistical scheduling function to the shipper via the web. The resulting value to the business exceeded even our expectations. In the hands of the consumer, shipping schedules that had been myopically controlled for decades were literally revolutionized. Deliveries that were being made to just-in-time manufacturing facilities began to meet the actual schedule of the factory, instead of the at the convenience of the transportation company. It was a huge sea change for an industry that spent so many years being self-important.

America's trick has been its ability to create value from nothing. Technology's role has evolved and plays a bigger part in that creation of wealth than ever before. Geeks aren't going to get you there by themselves. You need people who understand BOTH the technology AND the business. Let's get to work.