In the new digital world, you have to change the narrative about IT


In far too many companies, IT is still seen as a cost center/support function rather than as a direct contributor to revenue, margin and profit growth. Most of the CIOs I’ve talked with over the past several years admit that their budgets have been reduced or kept flat. This says that for whatever reason, the companies have not seen fit to invest in technology as a competitive differentiator, or if they have done so, they’ve by-passed IT. That legacy mindset and behavior is a death knell for any company which wants to transform itself into a digital enterprise. So how do you get out of that situation?

Start with a new vocabulary


It turns out in the new world of digital disruption that vocabulary is just as important as performance. Simply put, if you can’t effectively communicate the role and business value of IT you are unlikely to get the recognition and credit for the contribution technology is making to the competitive performance of your organization. Some CIOs I’ve worked with have started by changing the name of their group from IT to:

  • Enterprise Technology Solutions
  • Global Technology Services
  • Technology Systems & Services

Here are some examples of how you can use a new vocabulary to communicate what one CIO I know calls the “new style of IT.”

  • Stop talking about the IT cost budget and start talking about the technology investment portfolio
  • Stop talking about uptime and start talking about time to value
  • Stop talking about user interface design and start talking about user experience design
  • Stop talking about technical debt and start talking about releasing and redeploying trapped value
  • Stop talking about systems infrastructure and start talking about how digital disruption will impact your company’s operating and business models

From fact telling to story telling


Many CIOs go to great lengths to tell the IT story with a set of facts. Everything from IT spend as a percentage of revenue to the number of projects delivered in a given period of time. Facts are good at documenting what IT does but they aren’t effective in changing people’s attitudes and mindsets about the value technology brings to the enterprise.

While it may seem crass to some, the CIO and their senior leadership team have to become aggressive marketers of the mission critical necessity for their organizations to embrace digital technology as a competitive weapon.

What does it take to tell a really compelling story? Here are some suggestions from John Bates who has trained hundreds of Tedx speakers:
“Every story needs the 5 C’s – Circumstance, Curiosity, Characters, Conversations and Conflict.”

  • To craft a compelling story, start by laying out the circumstances that will provide the context for the content you want to deliver
  • Use curiosity to keep the listener engaged and wanting to hear more about your story
  • Present real characters and real conversations to give your story reality and credibility
  • Utilize real examples of conflict as the motivation for the stories that resolved them

You can start this storytelling process by asking and answering some core questions:

  • How do you tell the technology business value story in your company today?
  • How well is that story being received?
  • What storytelling tools and processes could improve your ability to tell the business value story?
  • What do you ultimately want the technology brand to stand for in your company?

Some CIOs have already started to tell a new and different story about the role and value of technology within their companies. This story will take many shapes and come in many different story telling formats.

My current plan is to engage with those CIOs who have started down this storytelling path to see if we can assemble a set of practices and tools that have started to change the narrative about IT in their organizations. If you would like to participate in this process, please let me know.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspectives on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at