CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Chief technologists grapple with an endless list of prioritization demands as companies pursue modernization. Determining what initiatives to greenlight and which promising projects to shutter can be crucial to sustaining stakeholder support — especially as economic uncertainty awakens budgetary caution.
“We are not where we were 18 or 24 months ago,” Sam Kapreilian, principal at Deloitte Consulting, said during a panel at last week’s MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. Accelerated growth has given way to “a more normalized” business cycle in which cash flow, profitability and ROI are the key to securing continued support for digital initiatives, Kapreilian said.
While driving change remains core to the role of the CIO, learning how to say “no” without discouraging innovation is also an essential skill.
“We have a simple above-the-line/below-the-line process” for project approval, Michael Parks, EVP of foundational hosting platforms at Wells Fargo, said during a panel at last week’s MIT Sloan CIO Symposium.
Individual initiatives are assessed with the broader enterprise strategy in mind and prioritized accordingly by Parks and his team.
Those decisions are made in the context of enterprisewide digital transformation that will eventually impact eight data centers and nearly 5,000 applications, according to Parks.
“At the end of the day, you're trying to reconcile 'how many heads do I have available to do this work and how much budget is available?' Then it's just that simple process and discipline of saying, ‘this is where the line is,’” said Parks.
Getting to “no”
Delivering bad news is hardly ever pleasant, and sugarcoating is rarely an option. But straightforward and transparent decision-making can make even the bitterest pills easier to swallow.
Tom Peck, EVP and chief information and digital officer at Sysco, uses a “no, but” strategy to explain the reasoning behind negative answers.
“I say, ‘no, but I can move you to the front of the line if you improve your business case, and let me show you how to do that,’” Peck said.
Some projects make more business sense than others.
“We spend a lot of time prioritizing what will move the needle most,” Peck said. “Is a robot in a warehouse a better investment than redoing your warehouse floor?”
The answers depend on listening, observing and landing on the best solution to the business problem, said Peck.
Citigroup sees modernization as an ongoing project that requires regular review, according to Shadman Zafar, the banking company's CIO of personal banking and wealth management.
Zafar advocates meeting with technologists often in order to explain prioritization decisions.
“So we don’t hurt people’s feelings, we talk about this on a regular basis,” he said during a panel. His team holds weekly meetings with up to 1,000 in-house technologists to strategize.
If a proposal doesn’t align with a business goal, it ends up at the bottom of the pile, Zafar said.
Aligning IT with efficiency gains, customer experience, product development and other business objectives helps keep modernization manageable, Mojgan Lefebvre, EVP and chief technology and operations officer at Travelers, said.
“There are a thousand things you can do at any given time but doing a few things well and deeply pays off a whole lot more,” Lefebvre said during a panel.
If CIOs bite off more than IT can chew, modernization can stall. Boards may lose interest in a project that takes too long to show value, Parks said.
When stakeholder buy-in wanes, projects lose funding. A partially completed migration can leave the tech stack in worse shape than it started, Parks said, undercutting the impetus for modernization.