ROI and the Strategic CIO
By Arthur Langer
Perhaps there has been too much importance placed on how the CIO needs to focus on ROI to be strategic.
ROI is what the CEO and CFO want and the board expects, right? Maybe not.
While it's always nice to have ROI, it's not always realistic--especially with complex IT projects that touch so many parts of a business. The fact is that showing how technology streamlines efficiency, improves support, reaches new customers, and provides a better competitive edge for the business is far more compelling to executives and boards than a nice-looking spreadsheet.
Why? Because it provides them with a better understanding of how the technology fits with the business--a business they surely know very well. CIOs must also show that they understand the business--and what better way then to provide a picture of what the business could be like with new IT initiatives.
Some CIOs have been successful in presenting their ideas in the form of a story--what could the company do if the IT investment is made. This is known as "storyboarding." One storyboard that was used in an international company showed the board how the IT investment helped the company win a critical deal in Asia--and geographical area where the company was not doing well against the competition. ROI was never discussed at the meeting--that was done afterwards!
So storyboarding, as an example, allows executives to participate in conversation and embrace how the technology might work, and to what extent it might help the business. That is, allow executives to engage in the idea.
Allow your colleagues to help discover what the ROI needs to be. You might be shocked that every idea may indeed have a different ROI. In other words, sell the idea and participate in the process of how to make it work.
Remember, strategy starts as an idea and precedes the return. Most executives know that successful strategy starts as an idea--then you figure out how to get it done.
Arthur Langer is senior director of the Center for Technology, Innovation and Community Engagement at Columbia University. To read Art's monthly analysis columns in CIO Insight, click here.