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Three Things Business Expects from IT in the Digital Age

Yateen Chodnekar
Group CIO of Writer Corporation

When the French aviator, journalist, and aristocrat Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said: “A goal without a plan is just a wish,” he didn’t know it would echo in the corridors that separate business and IT, almost half a century later.

That’s been the unfortunate tale of business-IT alignment for the years leading up to the digital age: A goal that remained a wish.

CIOs carried it like it wasn’t their cross to bear and CEOs looked the other way. Until digital transformation broke down barriers and forced both business and IT to come up with a plan and bond over the immense possibilities of technology, its impact on consumers and business.

That’s why, today, more than ever, business and IT are working together more closely.

Organizations are expecting CIOs to step up, closely align and collaborate with various business functions, and find new ways to leverage technology to increase ROI.

As the author of Life of a CXO—a book that delves into the leadership skills needed to thrive in the corporate world–and a veteran CIO with about 25 years of working closely with business, Yateen speaks from experience.

He believes the IT department of today is no longer an order-taker, it’s evolved into a competitive differentiator, a business transformer and a champion of customer satisfaction. And that’s a feat that’s hard to achieve without bonding with business.

The Competitive Differentiator
As far as labels go, the IT department has been pinned with many. One that has stuck on like a leech is the ‘cost center’ tag. So much so that CIOs and their teams almost began perceiving themselves as one.

The keeping-the-lights-on expectation from business reduced IT departments to back-stage boys that help business put on a good show. Often accused of being inward-looking, the IT department’s success metrics reflected that perception. Worse, they were also dubbed as the department of ‘no’, stemming from their constant refusal to address business’ changing demands.

But today, that has changed. Call it the after-effect of digital transformation or the realization that IT can be a competitive differentiator, the IT department is now working closely with business and is more focused on delivering business outcomes.

Yateen says dissolving physical definitions of workplaces, and the need to partner with business to understand their requirements and challenges are potential reasons. Couple that with increasing customer demands and the opportunities offered by digital transformation to fulfil them, and you know why the IT department is in the spotlight. This has changed the metrics of gauging the success of IT departments.

“The new success factors are turn-around time, faster time-to-market, and adaptability to changing business requirements. Today, IT departments need to say ‘yes we can’ and offer out-of-the-box solutions. That’s how CIOs and IT departments are winning the confidence of business and have developed a cohesive sustainable environment,” he says.

Credit must be given to the IT department for shaking off the cost-centre tag and coming out of the shadows of keeping-the-lights-on to break new ground for their businesses.

The Customer Champion
According to PwC’s 20th CEO Survey, a majority of CEOs say changing consumer behaviour and speed of technological change are their biggest concerns.

That’s acknowledgement of the fact that the business believes technology holds centre-stage in business’ performance, which is dependent on adapting to changing customer expectations.

But Yateen feels what CEOs perceive as a challenge is actually an opportunity for IT. “Let us combine the two concerns and see what emerges. Don’t you feel technology changes are changing consumer behaviour? Absolutely. This is an opportunity for organizations that invest and trust technology,” he says.

It’s only now that organizations are experiencing the real impact of what it truly means when we say customer is king.

Companies need to meet consumers where they are and satisfy their sophisticated needs. “For example, if your target market spends more time on Instagram or Twitter, be present and respond to them on the same platform,” he says.
That’s sound advice. Research has found that one dissatisfied customer can spoil a whole pond of satisfied customers. All it takes is a rant on social media. “It’s only now that organizations are experiencing the real impact of what it truly means when we say customer is king. Technology will continue to evolve and consumer habits will adjust accordingly, but if you are able to keep up with the trends and how they cause shifts in consumer behaviour, then you will be prepared for the long-haul,” says Yateen.

The Business Transformer
Despite IT’s increasing affinity to business, it can’t be denied that there are differences between them that, if not addressed, can adversely impact business.

For instance, business-IT collaboration, says Yateen, can collapse under the pressure of inadequate funding and unrealistic timelines, a lack of involvement of key decision-makers, and a lack of clarity of business needs.

That’s why, for an IT department or a CIO, it’s essential to ensure that they don’t fall into these traps at the onset of a project. Avoiding these pitfalls enables IT-business collaboration and leads to business transformation, says Yateen. “Business transformation comprises three things: strategic, operational, and core transformation. Operational transformation focuses on doing things better, faster, or cheaper, while core transformation focuses on the operating model. In all three forms, technology plays the role of an enabler,” he says.

Throughout his career, Yateen has partnered with business to reshape core business applications. Together, IT and business have strived to create new market opportunities and reworked business workflow to suit a dynamic business landscape. “As a result, time to market is shortened and user interface is redesigned to transform customer experience. Effective use of new technologies has enabled businesses in new geographies across the globe,” says Yateen.

Key to that success, he says, is that business and IT worked together to make it happen. Due to this, there is no mismatch in business requirements and technology solutions. Decision-making is faster and hence course correction is a walk in the park.

Yateen believes that today’s leaders should think about blending the operational model and strategic transformation. “This is how leaders can rise to the existential challenge of disruptive change to own their future, rather than being disrupted by it,” he says.

That future hinges on the foundation of IT’s relationship with business. Organizations are beginning to realize that the closer they are, the better it is for business. That’s why, the IT-business alignment goal is no longer just a wish. It sounds like a solid plan.

Yateen Chodnekar
Group CIO of Writer Corporation

Yateen Chodnekar is the Group CIO of Writer Corporation. With over 25 years of experience behind him, Yateen is a veteran CIO who has published a book centred on leadership skills for the C-suite. He also conducts workshops and training seminars on leadership and skills development for some of the most prestigious organizations across the world.