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Forging a Business Partner

Forging a Business Partner

CIOs reshape their IT culture to create an organization capable of partnering strategically with the rest of the business

While some CEOs recognize the expanding role that the IT organization must play as a partner in creating new value, there are too many companies where the view of IT as a non-strategic service provider or cost center still persists. CIOs at large and small companies struggle to change this perception and break down the internal boundary separating IT from the rest of the business. CIO Executive Council members at Quest Diagnostics, Medco Health Solutions and YRC Worldwide have gone beyond the basics of alignment and banning techno-speak to reshape the IT culture, refocus on the end customer and reallocate funding to drive business.

Shift Your Spending

Mary Hall Gregg CIO at Quest Diagnostics met with her CEO three years ago to set a target for the amount of IT budget that was to be focused on strategic growth rather than keep-the-lights-on maintenance. Today, she and her team are in the process of more than doubling the percentage of budget allocated to business-growth initiatives. One project that has contributed to bottom-line growth was the launch of an online appointment scheduling system for blood testing, which got a positive response from customers. This ultimately increased patient satisfaction, which translates into physician and insurance plan satisfaction and then increases the bottom-line. "Continually increasing the percentage of IT work that is earmarked for new product development is an annual goal in IT and is measured on a regular basis," says Gregg.

Medco, a health care company, has also increased funding for growth-related initiatives, which increased the business impact of IT. CIO Mark Halloran says "One of our first steps was to really understand what drives our cost structure and where IT can assist with driving cash to the bottom-line." In doing this, Halloran found that new product development was a specific area of the business where IT could really make a monetary difference by getting involved at a strategic partner level. On average, 60 percent of IT capital investment is now aligned with new product development, he says.

Maintain a small-town feel. With the trend toward mergers and acquisitions, many companies intent on centralizing previously independent IT groups risk harm to the tight business ties the IT units had forged. Michael Rapken, executive VP and CIO at YRC Worldwide, a logistics provider, faced exactly that when he took over as CIO shortly after the acquisition of rival USF by Yellow Roadway. "I was now in charge of what used to be three very different IT groups who had strategic ties to their businesses and were now thrown together and asked to act as one," remembers Rapken.

To replicate the close-knit relationship at the larger corporate level, Rapken helped to redesign the project prioritization process and created separate spending accounts for the operating companies to approve their own small projects. This allowed operating companies to directly control a portion of the IT investment while large project prioritization was performed at an enterprise level. This ensured that IT was working on the most meaningful projects for the corporation while simultaneously working on projects that were specifically directed by the operating companies.

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