Fifth Third Bank CEO and President Greg Carmichael began his journey as the bank’s CIO, and he credits his time in that role for teaching him crucial problem-solving and multitasking abilities. “CEOs today have to solve multiple problems at once,” he says, “and they need to understand disruptive technologies and how they apply to their current businesses. I am a stronger CEO as a result of my time as a CIO.”
If you’re looking to dip your toes into the tech world, Lynda.com is a great resource for learning about IT. Many universities also offer relatively cheap courses on IT-related subjects, but another option is to simply ask your IT department questions about what they do and how they think they can improve things.
They’re often eager to talk about their work and will appreciate the interest.
2. Integrate IT into your company — not only strategically, but physically. Too often, the IT department is relegated to some back room, hidden out of sight. Physically integrating it with the rest of the company by moving IT’s offices and workspaces to a more central location will allow you and your other employees to see IT’s contributions to your operations up close.
Walmart is making just such a change to its technology division, merging corporate IT with its technology groups responsible for ecommerce development. Part of the motivation stems from an initiative to quickly identify ways of combining physical and online shopping, to put IT in a position to contribute more directly to business growth.
The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is incredibly pertinent in this instance. The people whom employees interact with daily are those whose contributions they recognize in the company, largely because they see the actual product of the hours those people put in. When your IT department is in some dimly lit back room, it’s likely that the only interaction you have is when something is going wrong or you’re signing paychecks.
3. Challenge your IT department with the strategies and objectives of the company. Most importantly, instead of tasking IT staffers only with menial assignments (such as setting up email accounts), challenge them to align your overall strategy with your business objectives.
One such example of a successfully aligned IT department is at Southern Company, where CEO Tom Fanning — former CIO — transitioned the company’s IT practice from a cost center to a positive financial differentiator. Similarly, IT Labs, NASA’s Technology and Innovation Division, has created a process for integrating new information technologies that has made the division the incubator for several effective innovations that have required minimal investment.
If you start seeing your IT staff as your “innovation team,” you’ll empower them to transform your company for the better. Proper utilization of your IT team will allow them to locate and eliminate internal inefficiencies, identify opportunities through the analysis of data, determine technology threats and opportunities in the industry and better manage your customers through CRM tools.