In 2013 I wrote a series of posts about what to do as new CIO. My thinking continues to evolve on this topic, but I’ve come to rethink the need to understand the financial model for IT in your organization and to put greater urgency on that understanding.
In an enterprise, an IT organization and associated investments are made to facilitate the operations of the enterprise and to protect the enterprise. We don’t make investments just because they are fun or just because we want to do them. There is a driving force behind these investments. Those forces are things like: operational improvements (reduce waste, speed, reduced friction, etc.), financial control, collaboration improvement, security, etc. The benefits of these investments are mostly outside of IT. Yes, some investments benefit IT, but most of what we do benefits other organizations. Saying it differently, the costs might reside in IT but the benefits reside elsewhere.
That is the central problem/opportunity to understand. How does your organization account for this fact of life? This simply must be understood by all parties and it must be clearly highlighted to all parties and that takes a lot of help from Finance. This is probably one of my biggest failures. I should have done more in this area.
Projects in IT can save tens of millions of dollars in operations or across the supply chain yet cost millions in IT to make that happen.
M&A activity are particularly dangerous to IT in that unless the costs of integration are budgeted and called out and planned for as part of the go/nogo decision on the acquisition, IT can appear to spending a lot of money to integrate that that is not really an IT cost, it is an acquisition cost. I read a while back that the two biggest risks in M&A efforts is merging cultures and IT complexity/integration risks. A company board might decide to spend $600M on an acquisition but that decision should upfront account for the cost to integrate the companies together.
IT spend is a cost to do business. Probably, the best answer to this problem is to work out a clearly understood, above board way to charge costs back to business units that are driving the investments. That chargeback would include the startup costs for sure, but also might include the sustaining costs to run or support the capabilities. In any case, the costs need to be clearly visible and either chargeback or shown back to the business and across the business. Tools like Apptio might greatly help in these conversations too.