How to make a case for new technology to your CIO + IT team

There’s nothing more unsatisfying than introducing a new system into an organization and seeing it fail. It’s a waste of time, a waste of money and a waste of opportunity – and yet it happens all the time. Usually, it has nothing to do with the technology; these failures are almost always about adoption. Whether a system is over-hyped, under-utilized or simply not fit-for-purpose, the result is the same.

Unfortunately, these precedents can make it more difficult to introduce systems in the future, as “system apathy” sets in and users become inured to promise and cynical about change. This apathy can also spread to those people who install the system: IT and the CIO. Instead of a new solution, they may see ill-conceived plans, a lack of ROI and negative impact on their credibility. The erosion of the business benefit of these systems can have a massive impact on the bottom line.

What can you do to get IT and the CIO back on your side?

Although the bulk of technology spend is predicted to come from marketing, and not IT, we must not throw away the lessons of the last thirty years. It’s great that CMOs are tech-savvy, but they need to show more than a recognition of technology benefits, and start to pick up on best practices from the IT world to really bring the CIO back into the fold.

Put simply: to get a CIO on your side, you have to think like a CIO. And that means going back to the business case.

Making the case for technology

CIOs (in their previous guises as IT directors or heads of IT) have been facing off to the board for years. They’ve had to take projects that cost a lot, that no one outside of IT understood, and that no one on the board was responsible for, and make them stick. Their friend and ally in this process was the business case; no one could argue with a well-thought-out business case. Now, as the new technology drivers in the business world, CMOs must use the very same techniques to secure CIO buy-in.

Here are the five questions you should answer when putting together your proposal.

#1 Is this technology for technology’s sake?

This is the first and most important question you should ask yourself. Technology is enticing and can promise many things, but without reason behind it, it is useless. An experienced CIO will see through your request in seconds. For years, they’ve lived with requests for new servers, mainframes, ERP software and, more recently, iPhones and iPads. They can spot an “I want one” request a mile away. Before you go to the CIO, or the business, make sure you know the answer to the next question.

#2 What is the business issue you are trying to solve?

Technology should be driven by a business need, never the other way around. If it’s not driven by a business need, it will fail. What is the issue you are trying to solve? Is it collaboration between field- and office-based staff? A need to deliver more automated or targeted communications because of a lack of resources? Is it simply that you need more efficient project tracking? Make sure you clearly define the issue you’re addressing; it will form the basis for choosing a solution and measuring the project’s success.

#3 What is the cost – in terms of time, money and resources?

At a surface level, it may seem simple to understand the costs of introducing a system, especially in today’s SaaS environment. And while this simplistic approach may be enough for your accountants, it certainly won’t be enough for the rest of the board. Ask yourself: how long will this solution take to implement? How many processes will it affect? How many people will I need to train? What risks are there with introducing this system? Don’t be naive enough to think it will only affect your part of the business. Try to plan the impact and understand the true cost of the project before you start.

#4 What is your plan to make it stick?

You have an identified need and a well-defined cost for implementation; the next part of your plan needs to deal with how you’re going to make the system work. This is a critical step and something we’ve covered before. It’s important to have a strong plan in place for user adoption, encompassing senior leadership buy-in, strong internal user champions, and clear expectation setting. Make sure this clarity is also in your business case and you’ll have a much more positive CIO by your side. They need to see that you’ve addressed the risks to project success.

#5 How will you get the business in step?

The last element of your business case, and an important part of any project is all about communication. As Sharyn Alden states in her article on the challenges of bringing big projects into an organization, “Good communication isn’t just an overly simplistic strategy, it builds bridges and relationships. It is imperative that a business has a culture of trust in place… Have ongoing dialogues, keep the lines of communication open… Be transparent, accountable and honest.” By showing how you will engage the wider business in the change, you’ll have a much more willing audience. It’s often stated that people “don’t like change,” but that’s not entirely true. The real barrier is ambiguity; if the reason for the change isn’t clear, then people won’t be inclined to accept it. Address this ambiguity in your business case and make sure you have a clear strategy for communication and collaboration with your project stakeholders.

Creating long-term adoption through collaboration

Although the forecasters predict otherwise, the future is not all about the CMO. Neither is it all about the CIO. Although the two roles will undoubtedly grow closer, it is the blending of these two skillsets that will pay real dividends for businesses. Whereas before the two roles were divided, they now have enough overlap to ensure that they are able to speak the same language. It’s this ability to step into your customers’ shoes and see the problem from their perspective that is paramount.

Post by James Gardner

is a digital technology strategist. Now working in the pharmaceutical industry, he previously worked at Volume, one of the largest independent B2B digital marketing agencies in the UK. Throughout his career, he has dealt with everything from social media and cloud computing to storage area networks and virtualization, giving him a broad view on the technology issues facing businesses today. In his spare time he can be found making cars out of Legos - with his two kids obviously - or dreaming of a walk-on part in a Romero zombie movie.