Technology Isn’t Strategic


As we recover from ringing in the New Year it strikes me as I read so many predictions and pontifications, that the old saying, what is old is new again seems to be striking a cord for 2014. So in keeping with this theme, my first post to this site presents a point of view on what the CIO of 2014 must learn and master as the role of CIO is changing from one of technical mastery to one of business leadership.

I will argue that technology is not a strategic asset to any organization. Let me explain.

You can be in the same business as I am in, you can buy the same software and hardware, BUT it is the people and processes (including those in software) that make each organization unique.

Early in my career I decided while in an entry-level role that I didn't want to be a Techno Jock, I wanted to be a leader. That put me on a journey to improve my education through night school and attend events and get involved with business organizations more than technology specific organizations. I believe strongly that lead to my role as Vice President with GHY International.

A few years ago I made a decision that I believe has made a positive difference in my ability as IT leader to be effective. It hasn't come without learning some lessons along the way. That decision was to stop focusing on techno speak or techno babble as some call it. That meant I had to speak something different, the language of business.

Why? Simply to make the job of discussing our challenges and needs for investments and ultimately the gains we experience into a language that removes frustration from my fellow executives and business owners.

I can hear many of you thinking, why do I need to speak business, why don't they learn to speak some tech, some of you may even have the self evangelized technology power user who thinks they can do your job better than you are. Yet we understand that not only is enterprise technology harder than getting your home network to integrate especially since all components wont have that empowering fruit logo shining back at you. After all hasn't it been and isn't it the role of the IT leader to be a translator? From business need to business solution; from analysis to development; from concept to reality; from a wish to a defined solution; from a cost to an investment.

My journey began to become much clearer with the development of an IT Vision. By thinking about how we communicate our need to be aligned with the business I began to change the language I had to use to communicate that. It also made it clear that I had to stop thinking about "speeds and feeds" and start thinking about solutions and their impacts on the business. It's about how things connect and solve problems to avoid costs, add value, improve process, and/or increase revenue.

We have all read about using business speak such as ROI or Return On Investment. While this has a place and is business speak about business value, so is talking in terms of process changes and impacts on FTE's or Full Time Equivalents as way to demonstrate impact of technology on process or Business Process Re-engineering projects as the old term becomes hot once again. When a business has a break through moment that is visionary how do you get buy in for that sort of concept, it can be a combination of many of the previous thoughts, you also need to talk about risk/reward and trade-off's through investment, and not unlike any business decision those holding the dollars have to buy into the change as a strategic investment.

This gives you some insight into why I think that technology isn’t strategic but rather the CIO’s ability to talk business and translate can make a strategic difference.

Follow Nigel Fortlage on Twitter at @nfortlage

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