FedEx`s CIO on Getting Executive Buy-In

By Rob Carter  |  Posted 05-19-2008

As technologists, we've done a terrible job educating our business partners about what we do. What creates rifts between IT and business is a lack of understanding of what IT is doing--and what it is capable of doing.

Our business partners have some questions about IT they'd like us to address: Why does it cost so much? Why does it take so long? Why is it prone to missteps?

We shouldn't say, "You don't have to worry about that." I'm a huge advocate of talking about why this technology is challenging, how it works, the pitfalls we've experienced and the reasons we've had success in pushing it forward.

If our business colleagues have a good understanding of what it takes to implement technology and what's possible with technology, they will be more likely to embrace IT on a strategic level, rather than viewing it as something that can be pushed aside. One of the most important things we in IT must do is take the cloak away from technology and get people thinking about IT as a strategic partner.

At FedEx, all employees--from CEO Fred Smith down--are wired: Even their homes are wired with the latest technology, and they have the ability to stay connected on the road. But our employees need more than just the tools. They also need an understanding of how IT fits into the enterprise.

We in IT must recognize that workers may be intimidated by the tech-speak and the arcane nomenclature and ideas technologists represent.

One of the most unusual investments I've made is in a team of specialists who work with our executives. These "ambassadors" sit with the executives and answer any questions they may have, get them up to speed on how to use a BlackBerry or browse the Internet, and make sure they have a seamless experience at home and on the road.

We take away the frustration and mysticism about technology, so they can be more creative with IT. It helps them stay in tune with the latest in handhelds, as well as what's going on in desktops, videoconferencing, IT telephony and other technologies.

IT is a fledgling discipline, so the industry needs to take a more proactive stance in making what we do better understood, more defined, more disciplined and less abstract. If people in the company are grumbling about not understanding IT and its costs, that's a sign that there's a lack of trust out there. And that's our fault, because we haven't worked hard enough to create trust by bringing down some of the barriers to understanding.

It's important to make executives feel that they're invited to the technology innovation party. Don't leave them sitting on the outside waiting to be asked in.

Also see:

Why Businesses Keep Struggling to Innovate

How FedEx Trains Workers to Innovate

Building the Innovation Process

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