How to Overcome IT’s Credibility Challenges

I talk to CIOs all the time who struggle to get their plans approved and their efforts recognized. It’s often a thankless job which comes with a constant need to defend one’s honor and one’s budget.

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If you want to establish yourself politically in an organization and be able to do your job without facing obstacles around every corner, high credibility is what gets people off your back and on your side. It helps you go faster and avoid the many time wasters that come in the form of uneducated questions about what you are doing and why it costs so much.

For any executive, success is as much about managing your credibility as it is about a job well done. But for CIOs, there are some extra credibility challenges built right into the role that your peers in other functions don’t have to deal with.

No one outside of IT understands what you do. And they don’t really want to. No one outside of IT can possibly understand the millions of moving parts, legacy and dependencies that is IT and they have no real motivation to do so. They want the benefit IT provides, but don’t really care to understand the technology or the cost.

Your business counterparts will never make the effort to bridge this gap. Your choice is either to stay misunderstood or to step up to bridge the gap yourself.

Poor perceptions of IT performance even when it is good. Even if you are meeting all of your agreed service levels, it’s tough to get through a day without someone complaining about IT quality and performance. Even though you perform heroic acts regularly, which avert crisis so no one ever notices or suffers and some services you deliver are best-in-class, it’s that one short email downtime that gets all the notoriety.

You need to communicate service objectives and performance in a way that the business can relate to, (by letting them help define it) or you’ll never get out from under this.

Clarity of costs and benefits is missing. Your peers outside of IT wonder “Where does all that that money go?” They can sense complexity, so they will tend to think that a reduction in budget can be easily absorbed because you are bound to be wasting some money in all that complexity. When there is no clear mapping of costs to business benefits, IT becomes a target of suspicion.

Even if you are confident in your priorities and spending, do all of your peers share that understanding and have confidence in it? Or do they think you should be spending the money “better” (i.e., either by spending less money so they can have it, or by doing more of their pet projects.)

You spend a lot of money. Period. In the company wide roll-up, the IT Budget is typically shown as a single line item and is often a bigger number than the profit for the company. It sticks out.

Meanwhile your peers in the business units are being squeezed for every last bit of profit through their revenue and expense plans. And they are all looking at that one big number. “Why can’t we just cut IT?” It is from this conversation where the “cut 5% of IT” budget directives come from.

I’ve been in those meetings many times and IT isn’t even in the room.

You need to get into those rooms and meetings, and present your plan and budget mapped to the key business initiatives being discussed, instead of as a list of technology costs. You need to be the one to do the clear mapping of IT costs to business priorities and communicate this in a way that the business team can understand it.

No one understands what “legacy” means to IT. Nothing ever really goes away. Businesses have a way of absorbing the financial benefit of an IT initiative and then forgetting that the IT investment to support it must go on.

For example, you rollout a successful inventory management system, and Wall St. will reward your company for the cost savings and increased profits that result. But after a few quarters, that impact is absorbed into the business model, and it is no longer recognized by anyone. But your cost to keep it running goes on. And no one remembers that part.

By keeping the “must” aspects of the legacy in clear business view, and also being personally diligent about reducing general legacy costs year-over-year, you can take this issue off the table.