What Business Are You In?

After wrapping up our CIO Forum in Paris last week, I can definitely say CIOs and IT leaders care about strategy. The theme of this year's conference was "Collaboration To Co-Creation," and we included a number of sessions directed at helping IT leaders step up and influence business strategy.

A highlight of the forum was Peter Hinssen's talk on The New Normal — you can see a sample of Peter delivering an earlier version of his presentation on YouTube (http://youtu.be/s_w04xb4MqM?hd=1). And Peter's talk perfectly framed the strategic themes of the conference.

Through a number of keynote and track sessions, CIOs discussed transforming IT to have an even greater impact on business outcomes. Central to this theme was the exploration of Forrester's new BT Strategic Planning Playbook, including a workshop-style session where CIOs got to exchange experiences on moving their organizations away from being order-takers and toward strategic partners with lines of business.

It's clear from the discussions I had with many of the CIOs attending that IT leaders sense new opportunities to partner in developing effective business strategy and moving toward co-creation. But there are challenges ahead; here are a few I shared in Paris in a short session on co-creation:

Language is important. What we say and how we say it are critical. Even speaking plain English is challenging. For example, in England one might say "put the money in the boot" (probably only likely if you are a bank robber but I like the imagery so bear with me). What we might imagine is something like this

put the money in the boot - UK interpretation

But on the other side of the pond, in the US, this would most likely be pictured as this …

So we have a fundamental dilemma in international business … even speaking plain English, we can be easily misunderstood. The challenge for IT professionals is to become fluent in the language of the business.

We need to change where we work. Ask anyone where they work, and they will tell you what company they work for and then perhaps add their role (e.g., I work at Forrester Research as an Analyst). But all too often this is not the case in IT. "I work in IT as a programmer" is a more familiar response. The challenge is that IT professionals too often see themselves working apart from everyone else in their business. Have you ever heard the refrain "IT and The Business"? When did they become different? So my challenge to you as an IT professional is to fire yourself today and rehire yourself in the business. No longer should you work in IT first and the business second. Flip this around.

What business are you in? As IT professionals we need to understand what business we are in. And unless you work for a software development company, you are not in the software development business. If you're a CIO, give yourself permission to get out of the software development business. Keynote speaker Andi Karaboutis, CIO at Dell, shared with conference attendees how she did just this by focusing on becoming a business partner.

Focus on the destination. In driving toward goals it's critical we keep focused on our destination and measure our progress in terms of business outcomes.

 Yes, these may be obvious, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves to focus on the obvious. What would you add to this list?

Comments

I'd remove "Focus on the

I'd remove "Focus on the destination" and replace it with "Set goals but expect to achieve them via unexpected paths". Fixing your sights on an end-point that is often far away (in a months, dollars, today's norm, and/or business transformation sense) can blind you to necessary detours and sub-journeys.

Measuring progress using business outcomes can be difficult when the business outcomes are only delivered at the destination, which is often the case.

Couldn't agree more with your first three though. I tell my team of software development professionals in an IT Services Provider ("vendor" is a term I detest, we're not shifting hotdogs!) that we're in the service industry first, and IT second. We could learn a lot by watching how our favourite Barista works. There's a reason why they're our favourite, and it's first to do with her service and second to do with the quality of the product (which, ironically, tastes better because we like our favourite Barista!).