Innovation is a great thought but developing true change through innovative thinking can only be accomplished when the CIO truly understands the business and the challenges faced in the real world—and tracking progress with IT metrics. CIOs need to get close to the action if they expect to really make a difference.

Uncover the real issues 

The classic disconnect between IT and business has always been that while application efforts started with a basic understanding of what the business needed, either the business changed, or the application function took on a life of its own. It’s up to IT leaders to reassess the connection between business functions and the systems that serve them, and that means taking on some of the roles of the people doing the work. It isn’t enough to watch people in their jobs because CIOs understand the technologies that can be brought to bear on tasks, but without experiencing the minor (and sometimes major) problems workers face, they likely would misdiagnose the problems. It may be time to play “undercover boss” to really get the full experience.

Continuous alignment is one of the essential KPIs for IT strategic planning, according to Apptio’s assessment. Staying up-to-date is more important and difficult than ever because “The rate of business change is now too fast to be encapsulated in a static 3-year plan. Organizations need their IT strategic plans to be as responsive as the business—agile, flexible, and frequently assessed with the essential KPIs for strategic planning.”

According to David Gdaniec, CIO & Co-Founder of Brand Alignment, “By working closely with the individuals handling the day-to-day tasks and operations of a particular business unit, its successes, challenges, and areas for improvement become easier to recognize. Having your finger on the pulse allows you to react quicker and with a deeper understanding of the overall impact, your decisions will have. This clarified understanding allows you to ensure that you’re delivering outcomes that truly align with the goals of the business.”

»Watch: [Webinar] Essential KPIs for setting IT performance goals

Understand available technology 

Even non-technical staff understands the basics of technology by using some of them. But IT professionals understand more of the internals and what makes them function. In addition, the CIO should stay engaged with emerging technologies even if they haven’t used them or put them into practice. This is a critical dimension to being able to innovate based on personal experience. Adopt new technology with a metrics-driven mindset: articulate the problems you are looking to resolve and tie metrics to it to track the impact.

Working the tasks in person lets the technologist conceive an array of possibilities based on the work, the data requirements, currently available tech, and emerging tech. That combination of perspectives can make the difference between just making the business run and innovating the next big change the moves ahead of the competition.

Empower customers 

Solicit feedback from users and customers regarding what they want to see added to your current offerings. But don’t stop there. Be the customer and participate in the activities they are trying to accomplish. Just as business processes can change over time for internal operations, customer perspectives change, and their expectations change. CIOs should apply their own knowledge and experience as critics of the systems being offered. Then envision the next iteration that goes beyond solving existing issues and adds features only a senior technology executive might think of.

IT value is recognized in revenue (literally) but also in the leading indicter of customer satisfaction. If IT is not delivering value, customers will let you know—either through low adoption or cancellation. A business strategy is, ultimately, an articulation on how you plan to drive revenue growth with new or existing clients or retain current ones. Customer satisfaction scores for IT services indicate how well IT is supporting revenue growth.  Apptio identifies customer satisfaction as one of its 10 essential KPIs for IT strategic planning by saying, “If IT is not delivering value, customers will let you know—either through low adoption or cancellation… Customer satisfaction scores for IT services indicate how well IT is supporting revenue growth.”

Empower employees 

Listen to employees as they work and gain an understanding of the jobs they do and the challenges they face in completing the work. This is another opportunity for the “undercover boss” to work alongside staff at their level and without being the ‘executive who asks too many questions.’ The balance between working with them and observing requires a delicate touch but when handled with finesse and a passion for the work, can lead to great insights and ongoing dialogs that can enhance the business.

Empowered employees need (some) autonomy in the tactics they use to deliver against business goals. Present IT to business partners in a service portfolio (rather than a singular line-item in a budget for shared IT) and end-users will focus on how they optimized IT costs through consumption choices.  Empowerment comes through choice. This elevates IT by, possibly counterintuitively, commoditizing it.

Petra Garland, CIO, Managed Solution (managedsolution.com) explains, “In healthcare, the ability to understand the challenges faced by the providers in providing world-class care to patients is essential to understanding the role of technology in their daily lives.  By embedding in departments charged with patient care, emergency, step-down or others we can see the impact of access, workflow, security and ease of use to enhance the patient experience.  Technology is integral to their job performance, but it must augment the care and not be perceived as a necessary evil.  Use case understanding is integral to successful adoption.”

»Read more: Service-orientated IT needs more than just a general ledger

Mind the data 

Innovation requires more than simply monitoring processes and how they are used. Every function creates data, and while the bulk of the data generated is used in the fulfillment of the app’s purpose, there’s much more behind the scenes that can deliver insights that enhance those in-person experiences. The CIO has both access to an understanding of the metadata produced by apps, and it’s incumbent on them to find ways to extract additional meaning and indicators that can help guide changes and additions. And if the available data proves to be insufficient, CIOs may be able to modify the apps to gather additional data to fill gaps they find in their analysis. Leveraging a standard taxonomy for a financial (cost pools),  infrastructure (IT towers or products) and service library pivots of IT spend provides an apples-to-apples comparison of IT options (e.g., on-premises, public cloud, or hybrid) that business partners and IT leadership can both understand. Calculated IT metrics derived from financial and operational data feed fact-based conversations.

»Read more: [Poster] Apptio TBM Unified Model (ATUM): The standard cost model for IT

CIOs are uniquely positioned to address the needs of their enterprises by understanding issues that may be inefficient, then creating innovative solutions to address and correct them. But there’s a difference between thinking about the problems and experiencing them first hand alongside others in the same environment. Stealthy infiltration of the work environment may not be the best way to discover what’s wrong with current processes, but CIOs should find their own methods to get involved in the real workings of the systems that drive their enterprise, so they can devise ways to improve functionality, ease the tasks of employees and customers, and deliver more value to their company.

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