The New CIO's IT-Business Communication Plan

By Peter High  |  Posted 03-03-2011

The New CIO's First Steps

Marquette Group in Peoria, Ill., is an advertising agency that delivers qualified, local customers to national brands by designing integrated media strategies. Its sister company, USMotivation, focuses on incentive strategies, group travel, and creative communications.

When Duane Anderson came on board in mid-2009 as CIO serving both entities, he clearly needed to be sure to work with his new colleagues to define the present and future state. This was Anderson's first foray into the CIO role, and he was new to the industry. As a former lieutenant to Tim Stanley at Harrah's Entertainment, he had been exposed to a high-octane IT department, but now he was in IT's biggest chair.

Since he was new to the role and to his company, Anderson focused on steps related to defining the present and future state of IT, as well as strengthening governance.

The first step was to develop an infrastructure roadmap. As Anderson began to evaluate the IT infrastructure, he realized that the server Infrastructure had grown on a need-by-need basis, rather than with the company's strategic goals and total cost of ownership in mind. This led to a very out-dated footprint that could not easily scale or be supported at a reasonable cost.

"To break this cycle, we focused an internal and external team to define our server infrastructure roadmap," says Anderson. "We are now executing on key components of this plan, which includes moving tactical needs [such as] email and file servers to public cloud options, and strategic needs [such as] customer applications and high availability to a blend of private cloud and on-demand utility computing."

Next, Anderson focused on the needs of his colleagues outside of IT. He had joined the company after the economic malaise was in full swing, and he pushed to ensure that he was gaining strategic traction with his new business colleagues, as opposed to being viewed simply as a cost center.

The New CIO's IT-Business Communication Plan

"Our IT-business communication plan is designed to ensure alignment at the strategic, project, and day-to-day support levels, with forums that allow escalation or decision-making to happen closer to real-time when an issue is identified," says Anderson. This includes:

  • Frequent strategic meetings with company ownership and business unit leaders to review the IT portfolio;
  • Project meetings that include everyone from the executive sponsor to the ultimate end-user;
  • Status for all IT projects communicated via weekly email and an internal portal for anyone to review.

After that, Anderson made sure that the appropriate governance was in place to manage the growing portfolio of initiatives under his purview.  When he dug into the IT portfolio of projects, he found that there were too many small projects that did not align well with the company's strategy. He turned this on its head, focusing instead on fewer projects that were directly aligned with the business plans. "This has allowed us to really move the dial on strategic efforts, such as growing our revenues non-linearly with costs and greatly increasing our customer-facing IT efforts," Anderson says.

Lastly, Anderson says that prior to his arrival (and before the last economic downturn), Marquette Group and U.S. Motivation did not manage its spend on infrastructure as well as it should have, leading to ever-increasing costs just to "keep the lights on." Anderson responded by creating a business operations function within IT. This group is responsible for tracking every external IT cost, benchmarking these costs externally, and re-bidding these costs at defined intervals to ensure the company is not paying too much for services. "As a fringe benefit, our business leadership has allowed us to re-invest a portion of these savings into new IT development," says Anderson.

Peter High is president of Metis Strategy, a boutique IT-strategy consultancy based in Washington, DC. A contributor to CIO Insight, Peter is also the author of World Class IT: Why Businesses Succeed When IT Triumphs, and the moderator of the podcast, The Forum on World Class IT. He can be reached at peter.high@metisstrategy.com.