When IT Transformation Turns into a Battle with the Boards and CFOs

Olga Annenko digital transformation

When IT transformation initiatives turn into a battle with the Board and CFOs

Yesterday I went to a small but fine tech conference in Frankfurt called Crisp Perspective. IT experts from companies like CLAAS, Adidas, Flixbus, QSC presented their IT transformation projects, how they work on their respective companies’ digital innovations, how they use the cloud, and so on. Really, lots of input received, and I would love to follow up on that in more detail later on.

But what struck me most, and what I feel I want to discuss, is that during the key panel, 6 C-Level IT professionals unanimously agreed on how difficult it is to push IT transformation and innovation initiatives through the Board, or get the CFOs to allocate budget to carry these out. Ideas like IoT platforms, agile way of working on products, continuous development, hackathons, – ideas that are usually welcomed, encouraged and cheered at conferences like Crisp Perspective, – are usually met with scepticism and resistance within own companies.

Mostly, because all the positive impact of appropriate training, education and structural changes is long-term and difficult to back up with concrete figures and numbers. The problem is, the Boards and CFOs want to see right here and now how e.g. investing into teaching IT teams the agile method will cut costs. If they don’t get this information presented to them in black and white, they tend to dismiss those ideas as non-viable or non-relevant at the moment. A recent survey by Deloitte seems to confirm this.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Make CFOs & the Board see the value of #ITtransformation is a big challenge for #CIO and #CDO” quote=”Make CFOs & the Board see the value of IT transformation is a big challenge for CIOs and CDOs”]

Yet at the same time, you well know that, for example, a traditional development cycle lasts about 6-9 months. This forces CDOs and CIOs into making arbitrary assumptions on what kind of features or applications will be required by their company’s business users or customers in more than half a year’s time, or taking the reactive approach to aligning business needs and processes with IT.

But how, for crying out loud, is it possible to predict what people might need in 6-9 months’ time? Especially nowadays, when business opportunities need to be seized now or never, because someone else who is faster and more innovative will beat you standing on their heads.

This got me thinking about ways to overcome these challenges. I don’t know whether there is a uniform recipe for that, or some kind of silver bullet. But I believe that the following 4 strategies can help smooth the path a bit.

1. Talk to local analysts and invite them to talk in front of the Board and CFO

I’m sure every country has their own IT research agencies. In Germany, there are at least two that I know well: Experton Group and Crisp Research, (although the former is actually a part of ISG now). So, I’d recommend contacting one of them and discuss the possible ways of convincing the Board and CFOs to invest into and to support long-term projects that might not bring immediate financial benefits, but put the IT organisation on the right track to achieve those in the not so distant future.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Having recourse to local #IT analysts can help deal w/ internal objections to #ITtransformation #CIO” quote=”Having recourse to local IT analysts can help deal with internal objections to IT transformation”]

Why local? Well, as much as I respect Gartner, Forrester, and Co, I believe that a local group of IT analysts, preferably with a heavy focus on cloud computing, is a better choice, and that is for at least two reasons. First, they know the local market, they have worked with other companies in your country, they know the mentality. They will probably better understand what is bothering your “opponents” in this battle for organisation transformation, and how to address their scepticism or doubts best way possible.

Secondly, they are usually easier to approach and to deal with, both on a business and personal level. And that is worth a lot because if you are not getting any budget for concrete IT transformation projects, you probably won’t get any budget for inviting an analyst to talk about IT transformation either. So, you need to come up with some strategy, some pretext if you like, and you will need to work on that together with the analysts.

Update December 07, 2016: While contacting local analysts might be a good option for established companies, young companies might not regard this as the right solution for them. At this point, I want to explicitly thank Daniel Krauss, the Founder and CIO at FlixBus and one of the panellists at Crisp Perspective, for providing his opinion on this matter. FlixBus is, by the way, a remarkable young German company themselves: Founded in 2013, they have grown over just three years to the leading European mobility provider offering daily intercity bus service all over Europe. And when I write ‘leading’, in the case with FlixBus it is not just a marketing set phrase, – they really are.

So, Daniel shared that, based on his own experience, young companies can benefit more from talking to a prominent professor or a university as opposed to an IT analyst. Another point of contact would be companies specialising in strategy consulting. He pointed out that most such companies are nowadays well aware of the benefits of e.g. agile methodology and therefore, can help young companies in dealing with the Board when it comes to justifying the introduction of new technology or signing up IT teams for a specific training.

2. Contact those who are already “been there, done that”

That is probably the easiest and least resources-consuming what you can do. Just google those companies who have successfully transformed themselves by adopting certain technology or becoming an agile organisation. It will take you some time, for sure, but it will be a relatively easy quest.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Support #ITtransformation initiatives with evidence from your peers who’ve succeeded #CIO #CDO” quote=”Support IT transformation initiatives with evidence from your peers who’ve succeeded”]

Then all you need to do it contact these companies’ CDOs and CIOs, say, via LinkedIn, and ask to share their stories with you – how they got there, how they overcame the obstacles, what concrete benefits they have now.

A quick tip here: Instead of just clicking on “Connect” in the search results, go to a respective page and connect from there. This way you’ll have to send a short message along with the Connect request, and this is good because you can outline the purpose of the contact in your message straight away. Build the first rapport, so to speak.   

3. Seek consultation with software vendors directly

With new ideas, IT transformation projects, new styles of work, you will inevitably face the need to acquire new software to support those.

Identify through talks with analysts and peers, what kind of software you will likely need. Contact the vendors who offer such software and ask them for palpable financial benefits directly, as well as when to expect those benefits to manifest themselves. Vendors, unless they are very young startups who have just started working on their client base, will know best from their own experience how much resources their software solution will save you. After all, they base their whole sales on making these benefits obvious to companies like yours.

[clickToTweet tweet=”In battles with Board and CFO for #ITtransformation & #innovation, enlist #softwarevendors help” quote=”In battles with Board and CFO for IT transformation & innovation, enlist software vendors’ help”]

Ask also for detailed case studies and references, and talk to those references too to verify the information and gain further evidence to present in court to your Board. Why would software vendors do this for you, you might wonder? Well, for them you are obviously a potential customer, and it is in their interest to provide you with all the information you want and need to win you over eventually.

4. Talk to more forward-thinking Board members and CFOs

Remember the recommendation #2? After you talked to your peers about how they managed to push IT transformation and digital innovations through in their own organisations, ask them to connect you to a member of their own Board and/or CFO. This part should be easy because this is not you cold-calling them out of the blue, but their own colleague asking them for a favour.

The reason why you might need this in addition to any of the above scenarios is this: In order to understand how to present your arguments best, you need to learn the same language; you need to make the same logical connections that you Company Board and CFO make. And is there any better way to learn how to do that than having talked to people who are cut from the same cloth?

[clickToTweet tweet=”To win Boards & CFOs’ approval for #ITtransformation initiatives, learn to speak their language #CIO” quote=”To win Boards & CFOs’ approval for IT transformation initiatives, learn to speak their language”]

Lots to do, but it might be very well worth it

I admit, it is a lot of… well, not necessarily work, but definitely a lot of efforts to invest, both actual and mental. But if you are really serious about bringing your company’s IT transformation efforts onto a new level and starting to address changes proactively instead of reactively, you will probably have to make this investment.

And if nothing of the above works, then I have no idea what I would do if I were in your shoes, and your company is one of the most conservative ones I’ve ever heard of:)

All jokes aside, let me know if any of the above makes sense to you. If you’ve already won this battle, please do share your own tips and tricks.   

About the Author
Avatar für Olga Annenko

Olga Annenko


Olga Annenko is a tech enthusiast and marketing professional. She loves to write about data and application integration, API economy, cloud technology, and how all that can be combined to drive companies' digital transformation.

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