CIO Checklist: Managing IT through Business Volatility

We recently blogged about key takeaways from the Gartner Symposium / ITExpo, noting a few things that CIOs are likely to be concerned about in 2012: (1) CIOs want flexibility to fall back to a Plan B, if Plan A doesn’t work out, (2) IT budgets will likely be flat, and (3) IT will focus on creating measurable, financial benefits for the enterprise.

In this “New Normal” environment of business uncertainty, there are some critical steps CIOs should consider to ensure they manage IT through the volatility and maintain healthy relationships with the business.

Here’s the checklist that every senior IT leader should consider for 2012:

 

1.) Create Visibility and Plan Accordingly.

Too many IT organizations are unclear about their priorities and the actual work they do from week to week, including software projects, infrastructure upgrades, enhancements, and “keeping the lights on” work. At a minimum, a CIO should have a well-defined list of projects updated monthly so she can see the forest for the trees. If a CEO needs to scale back costs mid-year or increase investment due to some positive economic signals, a CIO will be able to make strategic and tactical decisions based on accurate information.

 

2.) Implement a Governance Process for Unplanned Demand.

With a baseline understanding of the work being undertaken in an organization, a CIO must ensure that the IT group doesn’t become overloaded with new, unplanned work, especially if resources are tight. Without a governance process, it’s all too easy for a business unit to demand an urgent new project and bring existing work to a standstill due to project overload. Instead, put a steering committee in place to convene monthly or quarterly to prioritize demand and approve new projects.

 

3.) Understand Scope and Capacity for Agile Demand.

Even though it might appear there is budget and resources to take on new work, there may be hidden issues if an organization doesn’t plan in advance. Most IT organizations need to plan for non-project workloads, such as production support and administrative work. In-flight projects should not be interrupted, as this causes excessive churn. In addition, there may be future commitments, such as a new major IT project for a seasonal launch in three months, which will consume resources. If an organization doesn’t account for new projects ahead of existing commitments in a smart way, this can lead to resource contention and delays. Furthermore, if there are strategic reasons to keep some capacity available to manage, say, a potential acquisition, capacity planning enables an IT organization to remain agile and maintain service delivery.

 

4.) Drive IT Consensus at the Corporate Level.

If a CIO is prioritizing on behalf of the business units, it’s the equivalent of having a target on her back and it’s unlikely she’ll survive long. In an era of scarce resources and tough prioritization decisions, it’s critical that these choices are made by the business and not by IT.  I once brought a list of major projects to an executive team meeting. The list was obviously overwhelming, and a VP wondered how the list would be prioritized. “That’s why I’m here” was my response, at which point each VP started lobbying for their pet project. At the end of the meeting a broad consensus was reached based on corporate – not business unit – objectives.

 

5.) Communicate the value of IT in business terms.

CIOs are chief information officers, not chief computing officers. IT is part of the business – not separate from it—and IT must communicate accordingly. IT must lose the habit of speaking in technology terms and learn to express benefits in business-oriented language. A great example is defining IT in terms of business services that align with business groups and capabilities so the business value can be clearly articulated. Implementing a Sales Force Automation (SFA) tool does not tell a business executive anything of value. Telling the Sales VP that you can help him manage the incoming leads and give real-time visibility into the sales pipeline – that’s gold.

 

This checklist is a roadmap to success. If a CIO has most of this covered, she will be well positioned to manage the IT organization through the uncertain times in 2012.

 

 

 

 

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