3 CIO Pathways to Business Partnership

Decoding IT business partnership

Ask any CIO or IT leader how they aim to be perceived by the business, and the term “business partner” quickly emerges. Decoding this somewhat buzzwordy phrase reveals a rather simple objective: function as a proactive business enabler versus a reactive order taker. 

Yet despite all the fanfare around IT / business partnership, execution of such strategies are often lacking. Proclaiming to be a business partner versus actually becoming one requires action. The three capabilities outlined here may help expedite IT’s journey towards true business partnership. 

Enterprise observability 1.0

Just as you cannot secure what you can’t see, you cannot manage an opaque enterprise. In order for IT leadership to understand where the organization is going, it’s important to understand where the organization is today in terms of people, processes, and technology. 

Before IT leaders can make broad business decisions, enterprise instrumentation is a must. A solid enterprise observability capability should include the following:

  1. A programmatically-updated list of SaaS software and its associated cost
  2. A business application portfolio of discovered applications, categorized by business capability area
  3. A catalog of physical and virtual assets across data centers and IaaS providers
  4. Basic monitoring and alerting for business-critical services; whether on-prem or in the cloud
  5. Continuous monitoring of risks from both external and internal bad actors

As organizations typically own hundreds of SaaS applications, conducting app-by-app or risk-by-risk conversions no longer scales. A portfolio approach will instead provide the holistic insights needed to make better business decisions, and IT will demonstrate a degree of business acumen in the process.

IT marketing program

In many ways, IT itself is a business in that it delivers products and services to customers. Yet as with all great products, such products needed to be marketed; and word of mouth only goes so far. 

IT customers need to be educated on who IT is, what value IT brings to the table, and the current IT product and service offerings. All too often this important messaging channel is left to bespoke and ad-hoc conversations, which leaves customers confused by inconsistent or lacking IT service offerings. And when customers don’t understand what IT does, you’re in a world of trouble as an IT executive. 

IT leaders must instead tailor their IT “marketing campaigns” to specific customers (CMO, CFO, etc) and constantly tout recent wins, new products, and future transformations which may impact specific business units. Touting wins drives “brand” awareness, and educating customers on new products and services is effectively internal product marketing. Don’t expect customers to simply know what IT does by default

From IT web portals to brown bag sessions and even email campaigns, there are endless channels to provide customers with these crucial communications. The key is to start now and consistently keep IT top of mind for key customers. 

Co-designed business outcomes

IT organizations lament reactive business relationships, yet such reactive nature is often due to the fact that IT is pulled into the conversation during the solutioning phase of a business problem. Pivoting from reactive to proactive business partnership requires a shift from working exclusively in the solution space to instead getting comfortable within the business problem space.  

By starting with a top-N list of business challenges, IT can effectively co-engineer business outcomes rather than focusing on technical solutions. For example: rather than simply deploying a new CRM solution,  IT must first understand that deal approval times are taking too long. A target outcome should then be identified, such as: “reduce deal approval time to a business day or less.” Then a series of tools and processes may be introduced to achieve that co-developed goal. If the business and IT aren’t on the same page with respect to a business outcome, IT could declare premature success by implementing some new CPQ solution while deals continue to die on the vine due to poor process.

Aligning IT and the business on a common goal not only ensures proper alignment, it demonstrates IT’s degree of business acumen. Moreover, this framework requires the business to commit to a measurable business outcome; something that seems obvious but doesn’t always transpire in the trenches of day to day operations.   

The delivery “channel” for business outcomes may be OKRs, roadmaps, programs, and so on. The important aspect is the measurable outcome itself; be it an OKR, KPI, or other measurable state.