IT and business strategy are inextricably linked. Make a place for yourself at the CXO table.
I just came off a three-week road stint that took me to Park City, UT; Austin, TX; and Las Vegas for meetings with execs from Dell, HP, Micros, SAS, Tomax, and many of their customers. In most of these meetings — especially the ones with retailers like you — the conversation revolved around the gray area between business strategy and IT.
I took part in public and private conversations among high-ranking retail technologists from Adidas, Guess, Kohl's, Nike, and Tween Brands, among others. The retail tech execs that I met with from these brands are doing something very right that most CIOs and SVPs of IT in retail are not. They've firmly secured their positions (and in many cases have established significant equity positions) at the business strategy table.
Software has matured to the point that IT-driven analytics and reporting are not just enabling business strategy, they're defining it. CIOs and SVPs of IT should therefore not just be in positions to say, "Yeah, we can do that." They should be in positions to say, "Hey, let's do this." Here's some advice.
The old adage about the squeaky wheel is rooted in wisdom and truth. But before you clamor for more executive-level clout within your organization, make sure you thoroughly understand your value proposition. Substance and business value are key to changing your role from order taker to business strategist. I know from experience that most retail software implementations are underutilized. Get to know your software applications, and spend lots of time studying new offerings. Until you figure out your software's value proposition, how can you become a champion of IT's impact on setting business strategy?
Don't Talk Shop With The CEO
I'm advising you to get noisy about the role of IT in strategic business decisions. But make sure you talk to CXO types in CXO terms. Talk about money savings, quick implementation, ROI, and efficiency gains. Don't overpromise, but talk about what you and your team can do with a can-do attitude. Don't talk about integration, don't talk about stats and speeds, and don't talk about programming languages and platforms. This may require you to step outside of your comfort zone, but keep the conversation at the business level and your ideas will be taken more seriously.
At his user conference a month ago, Tomax President and CEO Eric Olafson asked his customers, by a show of hands, how many of them believed that IT and the business are integrated in their organizations. Olafson scanned the room and declared the response 'inconclusive.' That's not good enough for Tomax, one of many software providers selling solutions that, properly used and adequately represented, helps retailers define strategy. It's not good enough for retail VPs of IT and CIOs, either. The best retail executive teams don't set business strategy without IT having a place at the table.