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Providing ROI faster, better

Providing ROI faster, better

For the last several decades, you've dealt with a business community that had trouble seeing the value of IT.

For the last several decades, you've dealt with a business community that had trouble seeing the value of IT. Now your partners have a deep appreciation of IT. Your job must be much easier! If it isn't, then you've discovered the same CIO paradox that I have: The business is getting smarter about technology, but your job is getting harder.

"Ten years ago, we had to convince the purchasing group that automating reverse auctions was better than paper RFPs, and that took time," says Ralph Loura, CIO of Clorox. "Now you don't have to convince the business of anything. They assume it will work and they want the payout in a quarter."

Now that companies are ready to begin investing again, speed is coming to the fore, says Mitch Klaif, CIO of Time, Inc. "In the last few months, as the economy has begun to allow for product innovation, the business wants to seize the opportunity for quick returns."

This new ROI urgency puts massive pressure on the CIO to speed delivery and time to market, and there are many options for managing that challenge, including:

Strategically managed rollouts. In response to the economy's impact on the construction industry, CIO Nick Colisto and his team at Hovnanian Enterprises led the deployment of a new operating platform that combines 12 applications across a highly decentralized business. "With a common operating platform, we can deliver innovation much more quickly," says Colisto. But those speed-of-delivery gains would be lost if the IT team spent too much of its time making changes to the platform. "Rather than react to whoever is screaming the loudest about system changes, we have a formal governance process," says Colisto. "We do four releases a year."

New roles in IT. One major obstacle to delivery time is the tendency for high-profile projects, like a new CRM system, to consume resources. "With an 'all hands on deck' project, you can quickly be in a mode where nothing else gets done," says Clorox's Loura. "This means that everybody is oversubscribed, like the domain architect, who is relentlessly hounded and cornered in the hall. The architect should be looking out at new technologies, but is spending 80 per cent of the time in projects helping to resolve design issues."

Loura developed a number of new roles in the organization, including a solution designer: a process expert who acts as a buffer for the architect. "This leaves space on the architect's calendar to keep a big-picture focus while the projects stay on pace," Loura says.

Process teams. One challenge to speeding delivery is that there are often walls between business and IT, creating inefficiencies in translating business needs into technology, says Kevin Chase, CIO of TXU Energy. To create better alignment, Chase and his business counterparts created joint teams that co-own business processes such as revenue management. Staffed with people from IT, operations, and the product development department, these teams have already produced improvements in change management. "In the past, IT would deliver solutions before the business could adjust, because we didn't have an integrated delivery approach from start to finish," he says. "Now we have a better understanding of the business's training strategy and schedule when we start gathering requirements on."

We are, unbelievably enough, in a brand new age of computing, where many of the old rules of IT delivery (which, ironically, are still young) no longer apply. Whether your market is internal or external, your customers want great IT and they want it now. In many ways, the business's insatiable appetite for technology is a great thing, so long as you can figure out how to feed it.

Martha Heller is president of Heller Search Associates, an IT executive search firm, and a co-founder of the CIO Executive Council. She can be reached at martha@hellersearch.com.

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