Knowledge is IT's Greatest Asset

By Patrick Gray

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CIOs often lament the multitude of stakeholders to whom they must answer. From servicing supply chain systems while deploying a new sales force application, there are few areas that are not touched by technology. Rather than being a source of frustration this ubiquity is one of IT’s greatest assets.

Save perhaps for Purchasing or some other shared-service organization, there are few corporate entities that span the range of corporate functions, and also have access to the C-suite under the guise of the CIO. While this may engender a raft of demands on the CIO’s time, it also allows him or her unprecedented access to all aspects of the corporation.

Beyond the technical knowledge that comes with maintaining this hodgepodge of systems, the process knowledge contained within the IT organization is inestimably valuable and rarely leveraged to maximum effect. From the details of the delivery process to the nuances of accounts receivable, IT has a grasp of how the corporation works at its most detailed level, and perhaps even more importantly, the data and processes that allow different business functions to interact. This global view of a company’s processes, at the micro and macro level, is worth far more than all the big iron in the server room.

Beyond Customer Service

IT has been mired in a “customer service” mindset of reacting and implementing, rather than strategizing and executing. The cross-functional knowledge possessed by IT is the key to moving out of this role. Despite the good intentions of a raft of process improvement methodologies, most focus on the micro level of a process, ignoring the fact that a dollar saved on the front-end might result in fifty lost at the backend. This is where IT and the CIO can shine.

The CEO has a similar holistic view of the organization, yet often lacks the knowledge of the details that most CIOs have access to, and does not understand how one of the corporations most valuable assets, its data, move through the corporation generating value for the end customer. The CIO can use this information to augment the CEO’s strategic vision, transitioning strategy to concrete operational plans and identifying areas where they will have the most effect.

New and emerging technologies only promise to cement the value of the CIO who leverages IT’s cross-company knowledge. Software as a service and the like push applications into components managed by each business unit. The “conductor” who can tie these applications together, and manage the data that flow between them will be a valuable asset indeed.

Knowing what processes and data are available in one business unit, and an intimate familiarity with the business processes in another, creates the potential for identifying improvements that will benefit each. Rather than pitching some tired enterprise software package to the CEO and CFO, and fighting an uphill battle on cost, imagine identifying a massive source of previously hidden value that only requires a new way of looking at processes or data to tap. This is the stuff that future CEOs are made of.

Forget the Iron

CIOs that still see their dominion as presiding over the big iron in the server room will be overlooked for advancement into other C-level roles, and in a worst case scenario, eventually destined for irrelevancy. IT is quickly moving beyond an exercise in managing technology, and like any other executive-level role is becoming about generating business value.

For several years cutting costs and streamlining operations were enough to earn your keep, but this is no longer the case. Your ace in the hole as the demands on the CIO increase is IT’s reach.

Sell Value not “Solutions”

Key to increasing your value as CIO is getting out of the business of selling technical “solutions” and selling the value that can be generated by your cross-company knowledge. There is little business value in an ERP package or CRM solution in of itself, but shifting the focus in your conversations with the CEO from the software to how interactions between business units will be improved, or how massive cost savings will be generated due to operational efficiencies, will be met with an open ear.

There is immense value in IT’s cross-company knowledge. From the most basic such as the human interactions between departments, to knowledge of where key business data lie that could be leveraged elsewhere. As CIOs struggle to justify IT’s role, perhaps they should look at IT’s greatest asset, the one that has been right under their noses since the inception of the corporate IT function.

Patrick Gray is the founder and president of Prevoyance Group, located in Harrison, NY. Prevoyance Group provides strategic IT consulting services. Past clients include Gillette, Pitney Bowes, OfficeMax and several other Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at patrick.gray@prevoyancegroup.com.