By David Jamieson, CIO, OpenText

CIOs across all industries require a deep understanding of the technology deployed in their business. They should understand the limitations of the current network and applications; the multiple contractual relationships with technology vendors; and the best way to manage both the good and bad in any enterprise IT environment.

But as a digital revolution rapidly sweeps across all industries, it’s time for CIOs to be making the case for how IT can be of strategic importance to the business, and to start being heard in the C-suite. Here are five ways in which CIOs can make that happen:

1. Focus on ITs value – Peppering your presentation with talk of DevOps, JSON, log streams and sandboxes will quickly have the CEO and other execs reaching for their iPhones. To put it bluntly, most CEOs, CFOs and CMOs – and anyone else in the C-Suite – don’t really care about IT. What they do care about is how their IT department can enable new, better and faster services for customers, or how IT can help the company cut costs, increase efficiencies and grow the business. To be heard in the boardroom, talk about how your team can create value for the business, not how you’re spending the IT budget – and you’ll have the board listening intently.

2. Target risks and security – All the headlines about major data breaches at high-profile companies over the past few years have put IT security on more business leaders’ agendas – and rightfully so. Every executive in every business must be aware of the damage that can be caused to a company’s reputation and bottom-line if data is exposed and customers put at risk.  However, it is vital that these discussions are focused on the risks to the business or a security or data breach, as opposed to the technology required to mitigate the risk. How likely is a breach that would require notifying investors? What are the potential reputational costs of such an attack? What protections can the IT department provide to prevent such risks and how much will they cost? Discussions around these areas are much more likely to engage the rest of the business, and add real strategic value to the organisation.

3. Counter hype with reality and education – Executives not steeped in the daily realities of enterprise IT can develop unrealistic expectations about what tech can do for the business. To help the CEO and other C-suite members clearly understand the business benefits of IT investments, the CIO needs to demystify these views. Make as clear as you can, for example, what are the real capabilities – and limitations – of ‘hot’ trends such as the cloud or big data that your C-Suite colleagues might have heard about. Your goal as the CIO should be helping the executive team separate reality from marketing hype, and then choose the right solutions for your particular business.

4. Promote IT as a business enabler – The work undertaken by your team should be seen as a means to an end, not the end in itself. CEOs and CFOs don’t really want to spend money on servers and software, but they probably understand that they must, in to keep the business operating and cash registers ringing. The job of the CIO is to explain that IT isn’t just about keeping the lights on for a business: It’s about driving efficiencies, adding customer value, streamlining processes and managing the data that makes an organisation work. While the CEO might not care about how a company’s website is developed, they certainly care if IT can help the website to drive more revenue. Your job as CIO is to make clear that relationship between tech on the one side and business objectives accomplished on the other.

5. Team up with other CxOs – Before you can successfully convey the strengths of IT as a business enabler, it helps to understand the business itself as well as you can. For example, you can gain valuable insights by talking regularly with the CFO, who’s focused on the lifeblood of the business: Money. Know what your company’s balance sheet looks like and the considerations that count the most in justifying new spending and you’ll put your own department on a much firmer footing when the time comes to ask for a budget increase.

Discussions in the C-suite can all too easily devolve into turf battles so it’s your job as CIO to keep discussions about IT on what matters most: Ensuring that technology can deliver what the business and its customers need.

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