IT can act as a powerful strategic lever in an organization. Yet many CIOs are still struggling to get a seat at the table for strategic conversations.

Transitioning the IT function from a cost center to a value center takes time, a focused vision, and an investment in relationships with your business partners, on top of everything else. In the current environment, where digital interactions increasingly present the main face of customer contact for an organization, it’s more important than ever for IT to serve as a true partner in shaping a vision for the future. 

Here are three principles I’ve embraced on the journey to turn IT into a true value center and consistently demonstrate its impact on our organization’s digital transformation efforts.

1. Dedicate IT to solving business problems

Value-centered IT organizations thrive by embracing the goals of the business as their own. 

At Lincoln Financial Group, we don’t pursue tech for tech’s sake. Instead it’s important to bring expert perspectives to the table to discuss how technology can bridge any gaps between what your business partners want to achieve and the reality they’re facing now. Ensure every item on your slate contributes to business partners’ goals, and make it your mission to help partners see the connection between your strategy and their priorities. 

Let the past year’s forced adoption of digital provide your opening.

Let the past year’s forced adoption of digital provide your opening: As your business partners face higher expectations from customers for digital offerings, show them IT’s ability to improve the digital customer experience and bring new solutions to market faster than ever before. For instance, sophisticated machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and business process management systems can enable automation that eliminates friction from the customer experience, minimizing the potential bottlenecks like call center wait times and enabling self-service for customers and business partners alike.  

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2. Recognize data as the key to understanding customers and measuring ROI

As customer needs change rapidly, real-time intelligence and optimization are gaining greater importance. This is providing the opportunity to elevate pre-pandemic offerings as well as current and future touch points.

You can uncover new customer needs through predictive analytics and intelligent insights, revealing opportunities to differentiate your business offering within the marketplace and enable a more personalized, responsive interaction in real time. At Lincoln, a deep examination of our data has yielded insights with major business implications, illuminating how to help overtaxed dental office workers more quickly verify insurance coverage and identifying when financial professionals browsing thought leadership content on our website are ready for a Lincoln sales representative to reach out.  

For maximum impact, treat data as an asset to be shared throughout your organization.

In a time of constrained resources, creating a clear feedback loop between data-driven decisions and real-world results will be essential to finding efficiencies and eliminating waste. Data may show that your constituencies are ready to let go of paper account statements, as ours have. And letting user feedback and iteration guide your decisions in an agile delivery method may yield work that is simpler and gets to market faster than a wish list of requirements would indicate.

For maximum impact, treat data as an asset to be shared throughout your organization. When you make data accessible within the business, taking the time to groom citizen data scientists trained in common practices and concepts, you enable them to test and learn independently. As a result, you may find partners bringing more sophisticated and efficient requests. For instance, a sales team with the visibility and understanding to analyze customer interactions with an online tool may zero in on the true minimum viable product needed to address pain points. 

3. Prioritize value capture and creation

As you’re creating efficiencies and aligning every IT dollar spent to business value, it’s equally important to execute a rigorous, formal value capture program to measure cost savings then reinvest or return those savings to the bottom line.

Start with a close look at your processes to find operational efficiencies: A recent IDG survey found that increasing operational efficiency is now the top digital business objective among CIOs. At Lincoln, we’re doubling down on the rigorous discipline within our digital program to not only improve customer experience but also to control costs and improve the ROI for each initiative. 

Another important component is a formal adoption process. In my organization, we don’t follow the philosophy of, “If you build it, they will come.” To gain funding and approval, IT initiatives at Lincoln must have a solid adoption plan baked into their very concept and based on close partnership with the business. This requires not only identifying the activities that will drive adoption and increase engagement, but also defining clear metrics to measure success and guide iteration. In our experience, such a plan may involve increasing registration rates and reducing bounce rates for an online tool, while taking a test-and-learn approach to enlist customer service representatives in encouraging adoption of self-service channels. 

More on digital transformation

The last step in the process, after identifying the strategic opportunity for IT to enable business value and ensuring strong adoption of the initiative, is measuring the exact cost savings to the business. Key to our success at Lincoln has been the practice of establishing firm targets for cost savings before implementation, then iterating as necessary to achieve those targeted outcomes. By tightly capturing cost savings, you can reinvest them into your digital program for greater impact, or even return savings to your organization’s bottom line. Either way, the strategic worth of your team will be clear.

The long climb

As technologists, we know the power of IT to transform the way we work and enhance the experience we offer to our customers, driving real business results. At the core of successful digital transformation is the shift of the IT organization from a cost center to a true driver of value and strategic differentiator. As the world becomes more digital, we’ll see tremendous opportunity for technology to add value for customers, employees, and partners — and myriad ways to prove IT’s strategic power. 

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]