No More IT vs. Business: 5 Ways to Become an IT Business Leader Today

August 16 2016 | by Jonathan Maresky

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In the past, an IT leader’s main role was to serve the business and focus on the latest and greatest technology. They supervised an IT department that ran a company’s servers and helped find the best applications or software. While this helped achieve practical corporate objectives, IT leaders weren’t involved in the overall business plan of the enterprise, nor did they realize a real impact for the organization.

Today, as technology becomes integral to every organizational department from marketing to purchasing to sales, IT leaders are becoming important participants in nearly every business decision. They have to act as change management leaders and drive innovation to support new business models, revenue growth for both their company and their clients, and customer retention.

5 Ways to Become an Innovative IT Leader

So how can CIOs and other IT leaders incorporate these strategies to become more relevant to an enterprise’s overall business goals? Below we discuss five tips on how to have a more lasting impact on your business and become an innovative, customer-driven IT business leader today.

1. Find Out How Your Customers Drive Revenue

CIOs today not only have to understand their business, they have to understand their customers’ business. This represents a big change for IT leaders, whose role has evolved dramatically from a custodian of applications and systems to serving their customers. Roger Gurnani, Chief Information and Technology Architect of Verizon, for example, is involved in leading one of the biggest Internet of Things (IOT) implementations in the world, bridging strategy and business technology together. This includes being tasked with managing wireless network and telecom network architectures, along with the IT technologies that drive business processes. Verizon’s IOT network, called ThingSpace, relies heavily on data analytics and machine learning algorithms to automate all of Verizon’s networks, as well as the application ecosystem, mobile devices and sensors connected to it.

This automated system enables Verizon to better serve its customers – for example by directing technicians to people’s homes with the appropriate skills and spare parts to correct a problem. By doing so, Verizon ensures that they constantly innovate and scale their infrastructure to provide a high-quality experience for their customers.

2. Know and Highlight Your Differentiators

To continue to innovate and provide a high level of customer service, you have to produce differentiators. For example, Intel’s CIO, Kim Stevenson, developed a big data analytics platform that is expected to produce $1 billion in value for the company. With a probability model based on machine learning,​ ​the platform describes what a sales win looked like, and notifies salespeople of which resellers to call and ​in which order. The platform has helped change the way Intel sells and markets its products, and has become essential to how they run their business.

Another example of a differentiator is the ability to create an innovation team. Contrary to popular opinion, the increasing use of the cloud and ‘as a service’ solutions does not necessarily mean the need to reduce IT staff, but rather provides an opportunity to expand your staff by creating a highly-skilled innovation team that can add value, scalability, ​and agility to your business.

3. Generate Productivity Improvements

Demonstrating your ability to generate productivity improvements will also keep you in line with the overall goals of your enterprise. Improving the skills and methodologies with which your staff works can help do so, and agile methodology is a big part of this. Although it was created for software development, agile can be used in IT to emphasize speed and communication between departments. As an IT leader, you know for example which people in your organization are open to new ideas, and you can identify these resources as ones that will invest effort in training, experiment with new software or applications, and build bridges between other departments. As is the case with agile software development, traditional silos between departments are thus removed, and valuable customer and transaction data can be shared across teams and disciplines.

In addition to modern processes and methodologies, CIOs should also look for modern technologies such as machine learning – based on algorithms that can learn from data without relying on rules-based programming. IT can become more intelligent by supporting the business with machine learning solutions, and also tracking, analyzing and revealing issues – especially in the world of distributed systems performance. The more you train your applications to understand your data, the better your predictive analytics capabilities will be. CIOs can take a call center app or their corporate Intranet, for example, and build a data set from it to teach machines to solve a problem.

4. Focus on the Financials

As IT becomes more central to businesses, CIOs are more and more focused on projects that create revenue. According to recent Gartner research, business and revenue growth will be defined by how well companies leverage their technology and digital transformation. Business leaders today see revenue growth as a top priority, and they are increasingly willing to invest in digital initiatives to help drive corporate expansion.

Jim Fowler, GE’s CIO, is one example of how to make this work. At GE Capital, Fowler used analytics and automated tools to drive $400 million into GE Capital over two years. That revenue came via a number of IT-related projects, including a sophisticated and innovative fleet analytics tool.

5. Move from IT-Focused to Customer-Focused

The days of IT teams being custodians of technology have changed. Now there is a need for IT to be leaner and more innovative and evolve into a more customer-focused part of the business. Linking your IT with your customers’ IT is one thing to consider, as it can help produce increased efficiency and innovation within your own organization. For example, integrating your technology to both your suppliers and customers can help produce more efficient order processing and financial administration for your business.

For IT leaders today, this kind of customer-focused mindset seems to be taking hold. According to a recent Gartner study, between 2013 and 2015, the percentage of CIOs giving priority to customer growth and innovation increased from 32 percent to 38 percent, while the percentage focused on the traditional priorities of effectiveness and efficiency actually decreased from 51 percent to 42 percent.

The Cloud is Fundamental

Taking the above five recommendations into consideration, traditional enterprise CIOs must recognize the cloud as a crucial element in order to make these recommendations happen. Running agile and DevOps, automating processes and employing machine learning and big data solutions — all of these need a cloud infrastructure in order for the organization to fully utilize their benefits. If you haven’t done so yet, make sure to experiment with using cloud services for your business through a public cloud provider such as AWS or Azure. These solutions let you efficiently launch resources or services, while rapidly evolving and improving to align with the organization’s needs. The flexibility they offer enables improved deployment, cost savings, and reduced risk – enabling a new emphasis on innovation and speed to market, and the ability for IT to become more business-focused than ever before.

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