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CIOs: Elevate IT from Service Provider to Business Partner

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Successful selling in today's connected economy relies on the use of technology to deliver optimal customer value. Information Technology (IT) organizations have an incredible opportunity to positively impact the sales process, helping businesses grow market share, reduce expenses and most importantly delight customers. Timothy Weaver is the CIO for Danone's North American business units, where the focus is to bring health through food to as many consumers as possible. Its Dannon subsidiary is the market leader in the USA's fast growing yogurt category - manufacturing an astonishing 230,000 cups of yogurt every hour! Weaver has a proven track record for defining, aligning and delivering IT strategies that focus on top line growth across Danone's North American markets.


Timothy Weaver, CIO for Danone's North American

After speaking with Weaver it is clear that the secret to his success is in his ability to collaborate and partner with the business. Weaver and his team are enabling the fulfillment of the company mission through technology; defining IT as a vital function of the business. Much like other CIOs we have had on our CXOTalk show, Weaver embodies the idea that sales is not a department, it's a process and it includes IT.

Weaver tells us how CIOs can elevate the role of IT from service provider to trusted business partner.

6 Ways for CIOs to Elevate IT from Service Provider to Business Partner

1. Be committed to the company's mission - Weaver warns CIOs to not get distracted with the traditional aspects of IT or they risk losing focus on the true purpose of IT - to help deliver on the company mission, which is Weaver's case is to sell yogurt, something he says his team is as committed to as the sales team. This level of commitment involves a deep understanding of the business, which comes with listening.

In fact, when it comes to setting business strategy, three out of four C-suite executives want their CIO to play an active advisory role. Weaver has experienced this to be true and says his peers have been open and have embraced the approach of making sure the right people in IT are properly educated on the business. In order for IT to enable the business through technology, the people in IT that work with a certain function of the business are seen as experts in their space. "The people in that area of the IT department need to be experts and interchangeable with the business people working in that functional area," says Weaver. This builds a culture of collaboration, working together and staying focused on the mission by defining projects and executing together which gives IT a permanent seat at the table.

2. Be honest about what you can deliver - Weaver recognizes that analytics is a critical advantage for Dannon in competing in the market, but admits that IT was not always so good at providing these tools, which led the marketing department to leverage outside agencies. Weaver is looking at building an architecture for the future so that IT can provide this technology, but says the first step was admitting that the historical approach was not the most effective for driving the analytics strategy going forward. IT is working closely with marketing to make sure they have the metrics and marketing is excited about what they are planning. Weaver is careful to be honest and not over promise and under deliver realizing that marketing has a job to do, even if that means relying on outside agencies in the meantime.

3. Embrace emerging technologies - The embracement of new technology is something that Weaver really enforces with his team. His goal is to create an environment where his team can learn new technologies that allow them to go above and beyond the traditional IT stereotype of just keeping the lights on. Weaver recognizes that start-ups are delivering technology that makes IT a more effective and better partner to the business by enabling the business. He is looking at technology that brings business agility and self-service to enable the business to do things much faster.

4. Do not ignore startups - Dannon has important strategic partnerships with SAP, Oracle and Microsoft, but to stay abreast of what the 'next great thing is', Weaver embraces start-ups. He relies on peers, VCs in the San Francisco area, their start-up eco-system, Twitter and blogs such as TechCrunch to find innovators and thought leaders in his space. (Startups take note that one thing he never relies on is unsolicited email!) The decision to engage a startup is always prompted by the need to solve a specific business problem. Weaver says they never work with more than a few startups at a time and they are careful to keep focused by honing in on very specific business objectives. While Weaver advises not to go in expecting a huge strategic solution, he values startups for their true innovation, honesty and for never over-promising or over-selling something. "If their solution is not the right fit, they are OK with that," Weaver says, "and if they can't help they might steer you to someone who can."

5. Articulate your desire for IT to be seen as a business partner - Weaver's number one piece of advice for CIOs who are trying to create a value proposition where IT is looked upon as helping to grow the business is to make sure you articulate that desire with business peers and request their help in getting there. "Unless you are comfortable taking to your peers about the aspirations you have for IT, they won't know you are willing to be part of the success of the business and IT can easily fall back into that service delivery role," says Weaver. Business executives have wanted to hear this from CIOs for a long time and those CIOs who make their aspirations for IT known tend to be successful and have their seat at the table. According to Deloitte's CIO Survey, when CIOs secure that seat at the Boardroom table, they need to make sure they use it well and articulate the role technology can play in achieving their organization's goals and objectives.

6. Shared accountability drives co-creation of value - Weaver says the role of IT can be measured the same way that sales knows they are doing their job. "The fact we have a level of sales plan accuracy is equally credible to the technology and the IT contribution of that project as it is to sales. If the sales team succeeds with increasing sales and they are using the technology to help them then IT has fair credit to go along with that," says Weaver. On the same note he says, "If sales is not going well, we also need to take the blame." If you are part of the business, you need to be willing to succeed and fail with the business.

It all comes down to viewing IT in the same context of the business and not in a different silo. To succeed, the CIO will have to converge with the business and not think of IT as a separate discipline but infuse technology in business decisions. Weaver warns that if you think and act like an outsider, you run the risk of being an outsider. "When we are doing something with sales and sales is doing something with us it is working together to accomplish the company mission to sell more yogurt," says Weaver.

You can watch the full interview with Tim Weaver here. Please join me and Michael Krigsman every Friday at 3PM EST as we host CXOTalk - connecting with thought leaders and innovative executives who are pushing the boundaries within their companies and their fields.

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