How can IT leaders effectively influence business decisions within their companies?

We asked industry experts how can IT leaders effectively influence business decisions within their companies? Here are their responses:

Steve Santamaria, CEO, Folio Photonics

Steve Santamaria, CEO, Folio Photonics 

The role that IT leaders play in business decisions is continuing to evolve as the way in which we create, store, manage, protect and use information becomes increasingly tied to profitability and organizational success.

Along with this, due to our ever-growing digital world, many non-technical people within organizations have become familiar with basic IT vocabulary. While this dynamic creates an opportunity for IT leaders to communicate more easily and more effectively, the responsibility remains on them to convey the significance of their opinions.

The most effective method for IT leaders to influence decisions would be to take notes from the sales department. Placing an importance on soft skills is crucial for any business leader in the modern age so they can have their initiatives/opinions heard and understood.

Indirect influence plays an increasingly important role in the decision-making process. Having soft skills such as communication, flexibility, negotiation and conflict-resolution will go a long way in any IT leader’s level of influence. 

To take a step back, a typical sales process includes awareness, information gathering, presenting, negotiating, closing and following up. First and foremost, being aware of who the other non-technical business leaders are is the first step – i.e. identifying the decision makers, as well as the influencers.

Then, an IT leader should learn about their desired outcomes and goals that the other non-technical decision makers have in mind or have committed to. It is important to note that these may vary between the different decision makers and influencers.

After this, IT leaders are able to truly leverage their expertise to build and support how their proposed IT strategy will allow the other business leaders to achieve their desired outcomes and goals, as well as overcome challenges.

Then, the IT leader may or may not have to be flexible and negotiate a mutually agreeable strategy. Once a mutually agreeable strategy is in place, it moves to closing and handling any last-minute objections. Lastly, following up to ensure the strategy is implemented effectively, meeting their expectations and allowing them to achieve their goals is crucial as it builds a mutual trust. 

As a result, a shift in organizations can be achieved where IT leaders will no longer simply be in charge of keeping things up and running in the most cost-efficient manner. They can take their rightful place at the table as a trusted and valued cornerstone of the leadership team.

Nat Natarajan, Chief Product and Strategy Officer, Globalization Partners

Nat Natarajan, Chief Product and Strategy Officer, Globalization Partners

Our increasingly digital economy has pushed IT leaders to the forefront. With the multitude of new challenges in an environment increasingly dominated by hybrid and remote work models, the only constant you can count on when it comes to technology is change. The best IT leaders must-have a clear long-term vision to help ensure that the Digital Transformation most organizations are currently undertaking will match and enhance the overall strategy of their business.

At the same time, over the last several years many organizations have struggled to come to terms with new ways of remote working. To keep up, many firms are accelerating their Digital transformation plans by three to four years, in order to securely accommodate increasing numbers of remote employees. Those that have been successful, have been fortunate to have forward thinking IT leaders who could not only adapt but were able to collaborate with key stakeholders to enable the right path forward.

To find true success from a business perspective, IT leadership must form new ways of breaking down departmental silos to interact and collaborate with the rest of their organization. This will help ensure long-term business resilience by enabling a culture that works together to solve big picture challenges and ensures the sharing of vital information throughout the organization.

By viewing technology as part of the overall business ecosystem, it becomes one of many tools that help ensure the overall success of an organization. Considerations for IT leaders include: 

  • Remember, an overburdened legacy operating model is unable to support current and future strategic objectives, plans or business models
  • Always shape the current IT operating model to support the overall business objectives
  • Manage interdependencies between enterprise operations, business unit models and the operating model for IT across the enterprise
  • Leverage data from customers and employees and how they interact in a remote world to help with Digital Transformation

IT is a constantly changing field that requires dedication, flexibility and especially vision. What is needed today, may completely change tomorrow. If I were to offer one piece of advice, it would be that you had better be a good juggler – as you never know what’s coming and every day is a school day – and that’s what makes IT an exciting and challenging career.

At our own company, G-P (Globalization Partners), we encourage IT leaders to work across the organization to enable the most transparent, transformative and ever-evolving technology and make sure it’s at the heart of everything we do on a daily basis. 

Jon Nordmark, CEO, Iterate.ai

Jon Nordmark, CEO, Iterate.ai

In businesses where I’ve been CEO, I expect my technology leaders to bring the company (a) more output (b) faster speed. And if costs increase, costs must grow at a slower pace than revenues.

To accomplish this, a technology leader can rarely do more of the same and expect to have as much influence on business decisions within their companies. Change is required.

Technology leaders should take the reins on driving specific decisions that can demonstrably enable their organizations to do more at less cost (and that’s especially the case in this economic climate). To put just one example to that: tech leaders now turning to low-code strategies can accelerate development (figure around 20x the speed of hardcoding) while still getting the AI, IoT, etc capabilities that they need to keep pace with modernization. And tech leaders can do it without hiring the AI, data analyst, etc. expertise that would otherwise be required. Demonstrable change like that will get business leaders’ ears and help influence decisions.

Technology leaders will also have more success influencing business decisions if they can tie technology strategy (and their tech solution wish lists) to revenue. Take digital experience modernization, which is on every tech leader’s plate right now thanks to digital-first companies like Amazon investing US$60+ billion per year on R&D.

Technology leaders who want to influence those digital experience decisions should be providing insights to the business leaders by clearly describing what’s possible. They should provide, what my company calls, a Tour of the Possible. Show them why creating an AI chat solution will increase retail customer satisfaction and decrease costs.

Show them why merging payments with license plate readers will make it easier to pay for gas and deliver a superior digital experience. No matter what the goal is with digital change, tech leaders need to make it clear to business leaders what is possible and what to expect. 

To say one more thing, business decisions are formed by the operational efficiencies of a company and the external opportunities in the marketplace. Increasingly, critical technology initiatives like Digital Transformation play a central role in both of those internal and external factors. IT leaders and CIOs are the most qualified executives to finesse the best path through those Digital Transformation decisions.

Tom Bridge, Principal Product Manager for Apple Technologies, JumpCloud

Tom Bridge, Principal Product Manager for Apple Technologies, JumpCloud

Especially in the age of hybrid work, IT leaders shouldn’t underestimate the importance of relationship-building and respect – both values that need to be modelled and nurtured. How executive teams and other employees see your department as a resource will determine your value within the organization, and your ability to affect change.

Moving mountains to solve problems and treating people well shows you are a trusted partner. If your team is standoffish or restrictive without explanation then others will view you as a liability and your voice will be diminished.

IT is generally perceived as an analytical pursuit. But defining a set of key principles, and building that policy into operations allows people to know where you stand and trust the work you do. Some examples include those developed by Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and Harvard University.

But while relationships and trust-building are both critical to IT success, there’s no avoiding budget and productivity considerations. IT leaders should be able to clearly communicate how their department magnifies the organization’s ability to execute as a cost justification.

These are also capability indicators too – the more force amplification, the better the department and its toolset. Every organization that can magnify the impact of their staff through Digital Transformation will see increases in their cadences, improvements in their efficiency or quality execution, or both.

Especially with current market instability, a holistic approach to IT can contribute greatly to an organization’s success. In practice, this means determining what results are needed and what outcomes are most important to the business, then strategizing and executing on smarter ways to achieve them.

IT managers should regularly evaluate if and where tool consolidation can reduce licensing costs without disrupting the employee experience, or how team members’ time should be allocated differently as business goals change. Digital Transformation can improve efficiency and productivity, and building agility into the system that allows for benefits from new tools and approaches underscores IT’s ongoing contributions to company success.

The primary goal for IT teams should be understanding business needs and priorities for the future. Be prepared to regularly show how your existing model delivers on those needs or how processes be improved? Evaluate and explain whether redesigning your process is an alternative to getting the same result with savings and what downstreams impacts there might be.

Identify how you can make your budget go further and achieve a return on investment – through productivity increases or cutting costs – and pre-empt harder conversations by presenting solutions before a crisis requires ill-timed changes.

IT teams achieve influence by demonstrating a commitment to business success through performance, cultivating trust and anticipating IT needs across the entire organization.

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