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4 Ways to Think Like a CIO – Even If You Aren’t One

Advice From An Industry Veteran

If you work at a small or medium-sized business, chances are you wear many hats. Even though you’re not in the IT department, if you’re in a leadership role you may find yourself having to make technical decisions for your company.

Joe Ulm is a founding member of ITP and today serves as our Business Technology Advisor. He helps businesses like yours navigate important decisions on what tech to buy and which IT projects to pursue.

He’s published nearly 100 articles on LinkedIn about IT decision-making and oversight. Here’s a distillation of some of his best advice.

Make Tech Decisions the Same Way You Make Business Decisions

Most significant technology decisions aren’t really tech decisions at all – they’re business decisions. Should you move to the cloud? Do you need new software? Is redundant internet necessary? Will you replace the servers this year or next?

If you want to make better IT choices, use the same rigor, analysis, and process you reserve for other business decisions. All the usual business principles apply to a tech choice: risk, productivity, cost, timelines, resources, flexibility, strategic value, etc. Focusing on those aspects leads to better IT decisions.

Learn IT Instead of Making Your IT People Learn Business

Why? It’s like this. Most companies don’t have measurements for IT’s success other than “it runs.” They often don’t realize that IT holds some responsibility for the business issues they’re experiencing – issues in expenses, efficiency, productivity, you name it. Businesses also don’t recognize that IT can contribute significantly to the solution.

Where does the CEO/President/Executive Director place responsibility for the company’s lacking performance? On the next level of leadership – the CFO, COO, Vice President, etc. Hence, some level of IT acumen is becoming a requirement for today’s business leaders.

5 Ways You Can Instantly Become More Tech Savvy has tips on how to start educating yourself.

Create Structure for Managing Your IT

Your company’s owner or CEO wants you to “make IT run.” But what does that actually mean? That doesn’t give you a way to judge whether IT is running well or not. The first step in creating a structure for managing IT is to define what “Good IT” is for your company.

Good IT for most companies means:

  • Meeting the business needs of the company
  • Meeting the user needs of the company
  • Setting expectations for both

Once you have “Good IT” defined, you have targets to go after. This, in combination with the goals of the business, allows you to create the strategic plan for IT. A strategic plan is critical in establishing WHAT IT is expected to accomplish and in communicating HOW it will be accomplished.

The final element of IT oversight structure is reporting. Reporting validates the work you’re doing, provides an objective way to determine how well IT is doing, and delivers good data for determining the best ways to improve.

In review, the three main components of an IT management structure are:

  • Establish Good IT
  • Create your plan
  • Report on your progress

Do these three things and you’ll have far greater control over your IT. Plus, it’ll make overseeing IT much less work.

Joe’s article Developing and Managing the Company’s IT Strategy – A Step-by-Step Process for CFOs gives more in-depth guidance.

Embrace Your Role as Tech-to-Business Translator

As a business leader, you have the skills to evaluate the business side of technical investments. Here are three tips for establishing the business case for tech expenditures.

Establish Value – IT provides value in 3 ways: productivity, efficiency, and competitive advantage. In other words, the value IT provides the business is measured via intangibles. Ensure there are agreed-upon structures to measure this with the CEO (or appropriate business leader) or business value will be impossible to determine.

Include Risk – No IT investment should be undertaken without understanding the risks of doing the project and the opportunity cost of not doing the project. Make sure you have both before analyzing the value of the investment.

Train the IT Staff – Whether you have IT staff or you use a consultant, every requested IT project or investment should come to you with the risks and business value clearly detailed. IT people aren’t always able to do this, so it usually requires training. However, if you’ve established how value and risk are determined, you’ll have the two most important structures in place for training your IT staff.

Once you’ve established how IT value will be measured and you can articulate that value in context of the risks posed to the business, it makes being the translator far easier.

Ask for Help

It’s ok if you don’t know everything about IT. Consulting with more knowledgeable IT decision-makers can give you deeper insight into the pitfalls and possibilities of your tech choices. IT industry veterans like Joe Ulm, Paul Hager, and others here at ITP have decades of tech experience you can draw on. Visit our Strategic IT page to learn more.

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