One of John Furlong’s pet peeves is IT workers who don’t dress like their clients. “Look at the way your clients are dressed. Make sure your IT organisation matches them,” says Furlong, managing director and CTO for UBS Global Asset Management. “That means in my organisation in the investment room, guys tend to be in jeans and T-shirts. But if you’re in the sales organisation, that’s not the way to go. You want to be their peer.” Furlong says a key to making sure IT and the business understand each other is rotating IT people in and out of other business units.

“Cross-function job rotations are critical,” says Furlong. “Make sure that your high-potential staff are developing a sense of different parts of the business. You wind up having a whole cadre of middle-level executives who know the IT organisation and are able to discern strategy.” Furlong believes that IT groups that don’t brainstorm and work closely with the business run the risk of simply becoming order takers.

But Cathy Ellwood, who runs a job-rotation programme at Nationwide Financial Services, says putting such a system in place isn’t for “the faint of heart”. It can take years to get such a programme really up and running, as you need to plan everything from defining what experience you want employees to get, to putting an infrastructure in place to make sure your day-to-day IT operations will not collapse when good employees rotate out.

She cites an example of taking one of the insurance company’s CFO potentials and putting him over in the IT procurement area, which includes handling vendor contracts and driving costs out of IT infrastructure.

“It wasn’t necessarily something that he aspired to do,” she says. “On the other hand, he’s going to bring a lot of discipline and training to that organisation.”

PR yourself

Fred Danback, CIO for Integro Insurance Brokers, believes that many IT leaders need to market their services properly.

For one thing, IT organisations should make sure to have their facts straight, says Danback. That is, you need to know how much it costs to provide assorted services, such as email, so that if an internal client asks what they are getting for their money, you can tell them.

It is important to quantify how much it costs to provide services so that your organisation can charge different levels of users different amounts. It can also help your IT organisation determine whether certain jobs should be outsourced.

THE TROUBLE WITH JOB ROTATIONS

One dicey issue with job rotations is salary. Moving from IT to another group might ordinarily mean an increase or cut in pay to align with others in the group. That can be an issue with both the employee and the department, that might not want to pay the salary and benefits, says Ellwood, who reports to the CFO. “We made a decision that each business area or IT organisation where people go will cover the expense,” she says. “It’s an investment in our future.”

“But marketing your IT group is not having a communications manager telling the whole company that these are the things we’re working on,” says Danback.

It has more to do with concentrating on what he calls “the four Ps of business” – product, price, placement and promotion.

Know your company

To market your product, you need to understand what sort of company yours is. Danback says CIOs need to ask themselves, if the company is more focused on customer intimacy, operational excellence or product leadership?

If your organisation, like Integro, is focused mostly on customer intimacy, your IT emphasis will be on CRM, he says. But other organisations, such as a financial-services company Danback used to work for, have lines of business that might fall into each of these categories.

"If you’re putting in a new MPLS network, go back to the business and say, ‘hey, good news, business video is coming’. Don’t even give them the initials. Don’t give them the satisfaction that you’re the techie guy"

Raymond Dury, executive vice-president and CIO, Fifth Third Bank

At Integro, when IT was rolling out an ID management system, Danback brought in a consulting company to give them a crash course in how to market it.

The IT team needed to cater for different business segments in how it presented its offering – auditors wanted better accountability, the insurance business wanted authentication for the extranet and the reinsurance group needed to exploit the network directory for single sign on.

At the top table

One sure way to raise IT’s profile is by getting the CIO a seat at the table with other C-level executives, but doing so is easier said than done.

The reason for this is most CIOs have not been in their jobs for more than three years and that more often than not, CEOs aren’t too satisfied with them, says Jim Court, CIO for First American Property & Casualty.

“This is not conducive to partnering with the business side or expanding the role of the CIO,” says Court, who says it has been an eight-year effort to take IT from being a necessary evil to being a critical part of the organisation.

The fact that he recently was asked to put together the company’s three-year strategic plan is a sign that the effort is paying dividends, he says.

Understand your influence

Making headway involves first understanding the environment you are in.
CIOs increasingly are reporting to COOs and CEOs rather than CFOs, which Court says is a good thing, though the real issue is whether the person you report to values technology.

You need to ask questions about your organisation – such as whether risk is rewarded – and determine if you can really influence product development and other business decisions.

Court says that when he started at his company, all the homeowners insurance it sold was customised by region.

"Look at the way your clients are dressed. Make sure your IT organisation matches them"

John Furlong, managing director and CTO, UBS Global Asset Management

Coming from the manufacturing industry, where product standardisation is important, Court wondered why standardisation could not be applied more to homeowners insurance.

He met with the company’s marketing people and worked to standardise the product, a change that would enable the company to rollout new offerings in 30 days rather than 90. “The business side immediately signed up for that. That’s what they understand,” says Court. “They don’t understand that we’re using Linux with Java. All the technology stuff, they don’t care. They want business value.”

Raymond Dury, executive vice-president and CIO for Fifth Third Bank, concurs that IT should be driving such efforts and not simply aligning with business on its projects.
“I hate the word ‘alignment’. You’ll never hear me using it except to say I hate it,” say Dury.

CIOs need to be focused on the business when interacting with other C-level executives. “Picture yourself as being the CEO of a company that runs technology for the organisation. What decisions would you make? It’s your money…”

Speak their language

Rather than talking about how much a new service or datacentre is going to cost the company, talk about it in terms of how the company will make a return on the investment or how it will provide the company with insurance, says Dury.

“Every one of my guys knows how much they have to save on their expenses or how much additional profit they have to generate for the business to get a penny a share of earnings,” says Dury. “If you don’t think a penny a share is important, think again.”
One way for IT leaders to get heard more clearly by non-IT execs is to ditch the tech jargon, says Dury. “If you’re putting in a new MPLS network, go back to the business and say, ‘hey, good news, business video is coming’. Don’t even give them the initials. Don’t give them the satisfaction that you’re the techie guy,” says Dury.