A digital business dashboard for CIOs

Modern IT business management tools can help CIOs better manage IT—and manage up

  • CIOs need to better communicate the business value of IT
  • Until recently, CIOs lacked a unified view of IT operations and strategy
  • IT business management tools offer real-time project tracking against business objectives

In a previous role as CIO of a Fortune 1000 company, author and consultant Mark Settle regularly updated senior leaders on how well his team was contributing to the business’s top priorities.

More CIOs need to take a page from Settle’s playbook. CIOs have traditionally been stewards of back-office cost centers, but the role has changed with the times. About two-thirds of CIOs now take on revenue-impacting roles, according to market intelligence firm IDC, and have much more influence on business strategy.

Not all companies have such an enlightened view of the CIO’s mandate. At one executive review meeting, Settle recalls, he spent an hour discussing the key challenges and innovation opportunities his IT team had taken on in the previous quarter, only to have an operations executive ask, “Did we lose any customer orders during the quarter because of an IT screwup?”

Settle wasn’t surprised. “The lesson I learned was that sharing IT metrics with business leaders can be like trying to read the Bible to a cat,” he says. “They may give you their total attention but have no idea what you are talking about.”

The divide between IT and business leaders in the enterprise is as old as computers. CIOs and CTOs often struggle to justify investments in terms the C-suite understands. And the data they need to illustrate their contribution to the company rests in so many digital silos that retrieving all of it is almost impossible.

That’s why many CIOs are looking to a new class of software-as-as-service (SaaS) tools, collectively known as IT Business Management (ITBM), that can help make their case by providing financial and logistical visibility into the IT side of the business.

The concept of a “CIO dashboard”—a dedicated workspace that helps visualize important metrics, keeping both IT team members and the C-Suite informed about IT performance—has been around for several years. But the newer generation of software tools can manage much more data—about assets, people, and workflows—flowing within IT operations. Such visibility allows CIOs to make more accurately calculated recommendations for the business. Without them, they may be in for more unproductive reviews from senior executives.

“One of the biggest challenges CIOs face is being recognized by their peers and having a seat at the table,” says Jeff Moloughney, product marketing lead for ITBM and DevOps solutions at ServiceNow. “Even when they do, they often struggle with presenting the right information to demonstrate value.”

“The advantage of ITBM is that you’re not trying to meld together different data sources,” says Margo Visitacion, VP and principal analyst at Forrester. “All of the data that’s most important for the CIO is available in one place.”

Data solutions to legacy problems

CIOs often struggle to show how their IT investments support the bottom line. Features of ITBM software offer visibility into application, business, or technical portfolios, showing where and how programs and teams align to business priorities.

Next-generation CIO dashboards offer similar advantages for IT leaders who want to evaluate the progress, budgeting, and results of technology initiatives. Project portfolio management features allow managers and others to track a project’s lifecycle with visual tools that simplify the process of managing incidents, problems, and change requests.

Over the years, and especially at large companies, CIOs have become accustomed to juggling hundreds of tools to oversee IT operations, project and application management, incident resolution, staff resources, and other key functions.

Sean McDermott, CEO of Windward Consulting Group, says each year he fields dozens of complaints from organizations suffering from “tool sprawl.” In response, he asks three questions: “How much do you spend?”, “How many tools do you have?”, and “How are these tools working for you?”

“I haven’t had anyone answer these questions,” says McDermott. “That is a big problem. They could be spending millions of dollars a year on these tools.”

ITBM solutions, on the other hand, offer easier access to multiple data streams through a single platform. According to a 2018 Forrester study, ITBM customers have seen returns on investments of 400% and productivity improvements worth $10.8 million over three years.

That should be motivation enough for CIOs to consider ITBM. But, as Forrester’s Visitacion explains, they shouldn’t expect these tools to deliver desired outcomes by themselves.

“In theory, these tools are gathering all of the data you might need,” she says. “But how you’re presenting that data is what’s most important. Do ITBM tools do that? Yes, they can, so long as you’re putting the right lens on it.”