Technology is not a strategic asset to any organization. Find that hard to swallow? Let me explain. You can be in the same business as I am in. You can buy the same software from my partner and buy the same hardware, but it is the people and processes that make each organization unique.
I realized this early on, having decided while I was in an entry-level position that I didn't want to be a Techno Jock. I wanted to be a leader. That put me on a journey to improve my education through night school, attend events, and get involved with business organizations more than technology-specific organizations. I firmly believe this led me to the role I have today as CIO at GHY International.
While on this journey, I made a decision that has made a positive difference in my ability to be an effective CIO. That decision was to focus less on techno speak, or “techno babble,” as some call it, and start to learn the language of business. I had to rethink the way I communicate as an IT person in order to be able to discuss business challenges, investment needs, and business gains in a way that helped remove frustration between my fellow executives and myself.
I can hear many of you thinking, “Why do I need to speak business? Why don't they learn to speak some tech?” Some of you may even deal with self-evangelized technology power users who think they can do your job better than you can. Of course, we understand that enterprise technology is harder than getting your home network to integrate (especially since all components won't have that empowering fruit logo shining back at you). Understandably, that's frustrating. But hasn't it been and isn't it the role of the IT leader to be a translator -- from business need to business solution, from analysis to development, from concept to reality, from a wish to a defined solution, from a cost to an investment?
My journey started becoming much clearer as I developed an IT vision, a way of thinking about how we communicate our need to be aligned with the business. This vision made it clear that I had to stop thinking about "speeds and feeds" and start thinking about solutions and their impacts on the business. I started thinking in terms of how things connect and solve problems to avoid costs, add value, improve process, and/or increase revenue.
We have all read about speaking in terms of ROI. While this has a place and is business speak about business value, so is talking in terms of process changes and impacts on FTEs (full-time equivalents). This helps to demonstrate the impact of technology on process, or business process reengineering projects (the old term has become hot once again). You also need to talk about risk/reward and tradeoffs through investment. Those holding the dollars then have to buy into the change as a strategic investment, and they're more likely to do so if you can speak their language.
This gives you some insight into why I don't see technology as strategic. Rather, it's the CIO's ability to talk business and translate effectively that can make a strategic difference.
— Nigel Fortlage is the CIO and Social Business Leader at GHY International.