You’re not alone.
Another day, another request from your IT team… for more budget and more time. The project that should have been completed last quarter gets pushed out again. And when you ask your team lead why, the answers—or lack thereof—leave you in the dark.
If you’re a CEO of a midsize company and your IT seems like a “black box”, because more is unknown, than known to you, you’re not alone. It’s an uneasy feeling when you have a comprehensive understanding of every other part of your business except IT. How often have you wondered:
- Are we spending too much or too little on technology?
- Is our current IT infrastructure up to date or holding us back?
- How vulnerable are we to cyber threats?
- Can our IT people hold us hostage if we need to make a change?
This lack of visibility is not only frustrating, you know it can put your business at risk for long-term negative consequences—such as poor productivity, lost revenue and profits.
When “right now” overshadows the right plan
CEOs of midsize companies struggle with these issues to a far greater extent than their peers at larger companies because they often lack the guidance of a strategic IT leader. It’s common for a midsize company’s IT staff to be comprised of network and help desk resources—those largely focused on the tactical, often reactionary, running of day-to-day IT system needs, not long-term business objectives.
It’s important to have an executive leader on your team that possesses both a strong technical and business acumen. Someone who can communicate in terms the business can understand—serving as a vital bridge between your tactical IT team and executive leadership. Most importantly, they make decisions based on a comprehensive understanding of what’s best for the company relative to key performance metrics, not just the current technical issues at hand.
The value of true IT leadership
Adding the insight of a strategic IT leader or CIO to your executive team brings more visibility, accountability and predictability to your current IT investments and future spend. Not to mention, a more clearly defined and accurate IT roadmap to help your company set IT project goals and deadlines, and meet them.
If you feel your IT leadership needs strengthening, you might consider a few different approaches to filling this gap. You may choose to hire a full-time or fractional CIO, or you might enlist a consultant to assess and make recommendations for improving the performance of your IT group and technical infrastructure. Ultimately, the decision should come down to a cost benefit analysis driven by your current needs and future business goals.
At a minimum, a strategic IT leader can provide you the technical knowledge and business know-how to effectively direct your IT resources and deliver measurable impact in three core areas:
01: Optimize your IT resources and budgets
IT roadmap — Documenting your 1-3 year IT plan provides the opportunity to prioritize and budget for initiatives relative to accomplishing the company’s goals and strategies. This not only brings more transparency and predictability to your IT function, it also requires that IT have a better understanding of how best to support the business across all functional areas.
Project guidance — Establishing a repeatable process for evaluating the business value of potential projects is critical to determining whether or not to move forward with a project as well as prioritizing your overall portfolio of projects. Implementing a formal project management and reporting structure will help ensure that you get the most out of every IT dollar spent.
Right skills and experience — Without a clear IT plan, it’s difficult to gauge whether your current IT staff has the right mix of skills and experience to support the business. Understanding your current and future IT needs will help you better manage hiring, training and succession planning.
02: Mitigate—or avoid—business risks
Cybersecurity — Close gaps in vulnerabilities from cyber threats, such as ransomware, viruses and phishing to steal intellectual property and customer data.
Disaster Recovery — Putting in place a validated, documented business continuity plan to address both simple technology outages as well as catastrophic events is mandatory to the health of the business.
Systems Map — Documenting your technology infrastructure, i.e. applications, network, phone system, etc. is the first step in rapidly resolving issues that can paralyze the business. Mapping your systems enables any authorized members of your IT group, including new hires, to effectively troubleshoot and resolve issues, instead of relying on a single individual.
Monitor and measure network — Putting systems in place to monitor and proactively address potential issues and outages before they happen is a long recognized best practice.
03: Use IT to fuel your competitive advantage
Promote innovation — Encouraging creative thinking from IT and other areas of the business by providing incentives can result in both incremental and game-changing improvements. Incentives can range from financial compensation to special recognition.
Schedule time to innovate — To create a culture of continuous improvement, your IT team should regularly meet with operations, sales, marketing, etc. to explore specific opportunities where technology can help create a competitive advantage. In this way, IT helps to break down functional silos while identifying opportunities that only present themselves when you have a more holistic view of the business.
Innovation framework — Developing a process for innovation—from inception of an idea to experimenting/testing to business case justification and implementation—makes it much easier to get new initiatives off the ground faster. The framework can be simple but it must exist in order to bring credibility to the process and enable the efficient implementation of ideas.
What you don’t know, can range from problematic to disastrous.
Lacking visibility when it comes to your IT plans is not only frustrating, it’s risky and puts your company at a major disadvantage. You may not be aware of decisions being made today that could have long-term negative consequences to the company’s cost structure and competitiveness.
It’s time to ask the tough questions regarding your IT:
- Do we have an IT roadmap?
- Is our data protected against cyber threats?
- What’s our disaster recovery plan?
- Are we proactively monitoring our mission-critical systems?
- What IT investments will best position us for competitive advantage and future growth?
If the answers you receive still leave you in the dark, then it’s probably time to consider hiring an experienced full-time or fractional CIO that can answer these important questions to your satisfaction. Gaining the wisdom and reliability of a strategic IT leader to help you proactively grow and protect the business will return major dividends and simplify your life in the process.