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Ending the reign of the “C-I-No”

This is the second post in a series on bringing transparency into the IT/Business leader discussion.

One of the biggest challenges in the relationship between IT and business leaders is the perception of the CIO as the “C-I-No.”

As we discussed in an earlier post, George Westerman, Research Scientist at the MIT Sloan’s Center for Digital Business, conducted four separate studies that confirmed transparency is necessary for IT and business to work together and bring greater value to an organization.

IT and Business Leaders Must Discuss Risk Management

To change the dialogue, IT and business leaders need to understand the four key value areas that bring transparency into the relationship. Two of these four are particularly relevant to the issue of the “C-I-No.” These are risk management and prioritization.

Risk management, which in this context is defined as balancing short term desires of business with long-term IT ownership and maintenance issues, can often result in IT just saying “no” to a request for something new.

Needless to say, business leaders don’t react well to a blanket “no.” But the truth is that Westerman’s research shows that the biggest driver of risk is unmanaged complexity. Organizations need to weigh carefully “simple” requests that may, in fact, add complexity into systems and processes.

As Westerman describes in his book, IT Risk: Turning Business Threats Into Competitive Advantage, IT and business leaders should discuss their business in terms of the four “A’s” of IT risk:

  • Availability—how will IT keep it running and bring it back up when there are problems?

  • Access—how do you make sure the right people have information and the wrong people don’t?

  • Accuracy—do you have that single view to know what’s really happening in your company?

  • Agility—what complexity is standing in the way of agility?

Not all four are of equal importance. The key is to understand which ones are of the highest importance, and which are of the least importance.

Prioritization also puts IT in the position of being the “C-I-No.” Whereas each business leader views his or her request as the one that should have the highest priority, IT understands “everything” can’t be a priority. Hence, the response is also “no” (although sometimes in a different form).

Metric-Driven Success: Critical for IT Buy-In

The solution is for both teams to have a disciplined investment process. Business needs to be clear on what they want, why they want it, and what metrics they will use to measure success. Then—and this is the hard part—both business and IT must revisit the project and actually measure the success of those pre-defined metrics.

Neither IT nor business is happy when they are faced with a “C-I-No.” So, it’s time to change the conversation by building transparency into the discussion.

Future blog posts in this series will examine each of the four key value areas for transparency.

George Westerman is Faculty Director for MIT Sloan Executive Education’s Essential IT for Non-IT Executives program and was the featured speaker for the webinar, “IT is from Venus, Non-IT is From Mars: Bridging the IT and Business Leader Divide to Improve the Value of IT.” He is the author of two award-winning books on IT management, IT Risk: Turning Business Threats Into Competitive Advantage and Real Business of IT: How CIOs Create and Communicate Value.