The Modern CIO: From Everyday Tech Buyer to Savvy Business Strategist

By: Jacqueline Lee| - Leave a comment

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A recent Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) survey found that only 40 percent of business departments work together with IT when it comes to buying hardware, software, services and other solutions, reports CIO. CIOs can take a dictatorial approach to procurement — or they can embrace their new roles as strategists, says Carolyn April, CompTIA senior director of industry analysis.

“CIOs and information technology teams remain involved in the process, as their expertise and experience are valued,” April tells CIO. “But business lines are clearly flexing their muscles. It’s another strong signal that technology has shifted from a supporting function for business to a strategic asset.”

IT often finds itself out of the loop when purchases don’t come from IT’s budget. Overall, 39 percent of respondents say their business units pay for technology purchases, while 15 percent report that the money comes from IT, and the remaining 46 percent note that it depends on the purchase. Over half of business units have used their budgets to pay for technology purchases within the past year, suggesting that IT is losing a share of fiscal control over technology purchasing decisions — and thus some of its authority over the purchasing process.

IT leaders can try to wrest control of purchasing back, but it’s ultimately a losing strategy. Instead, the CIO needs to position IT as a consulting partner that business units can’t live without.

The CIO and IT’s Changing Role

From applying software updates and patches to taking back devices when employees leave and wiping devices when they’re lost or stolen, IT ends up performing many purchases that they haven’t necessarily authorized. If IT is going to be asked to deal with performance and maintenance issues and held accountable for security lapses, then it deserves a seat at the table during the purchasing process.

With that in mind, it’s time for CIOs to advocate for centralized technology purchasing. When multiple departments need the same devices or applications, CIOs can often negotiate bulk purchasing discounts. In addition, because IT execs are often held accountable when their organization experiences a data breach, they need to know which applications can access organizational data. From a maintenance and security perspective, since these devices usually access the organizational network, CIOs need an accurate inventory of all equipment.

At the same time, IT lives in a world in which business units often make purchases first and ask for assistance later. Because demands for final purchasing authority from IT are usually met with workarounds from departments, April says that the CIO’s best strategy is to position their IT teams as purchasing partners.

“The lines of business do recognize there needs to be balance now,” she told CIO. “They’re working collaboratively with their IT department, keeping them in the loop.”

Speaking the Language of Business

Writing for The Enterprisers Project, author and columnist Minda Zetlin says CIOs and their internal customers — those who manage lines of business — often disagree about strategic priorities when it comes to purchasing decisions. IT leaders prioritize big data and analytics software as well as cloud computing investments, while line of business leaders want to invest in customer experience and business process management.

April says that the modern business leader needs to identify and fulfill business needs first in order to keep IT in the procurement loop. In other words, to encourage analytics and cloud computing investments, CIOs should explain how they improve business processes and customer experiences.

“They need to speak the language of the business,” April told the news source, “because this new generation of buyers doesn’t want to hear about the technical implications of their purchases.”

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About The Author

Jacqueline Lee

Freelance Writer

Jacqueline Lee specializes in business and technology writing, drawing on over 10 years of experience in business, management and entrepreneurship. Currently, she blogs for HireVue and IBM, and her work on behalf of client brands has appeared in Huffington Post, Forbes, Entrepreneur and Inc. Magazine. In addition to writing, Jackie works as a social media manager and freelance editor. She's a member of the American Copy Editors Society and is completing a certificate in editing from the Poynter Institute.

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