Mark Schwartz deconstructs business value at CIO SA first-ever Community Conversation


CIOs gathered to explain their role in determining business value.

According to Mark Schwartz, a celebrated author and enterprise strategist, business value is actually quite subtle and in the context of IT, if you take the effort to try and understand what it means, it will change the way IT executives practise IT.

“Business value is often put in the same sentence as customer value partly because in the digital age we put a lot of effort into the customer’s needs. But customer value is only a small part of business value: in terms of business value there needs to be a return on investment (ROI) or a business case behind it,” he said.

In the second part of the discussion Mark posed a pertinent question to the CIOs in attendance: Should IT be passive when it comes to decisions of business value or should the CIO be playing a more active role in leading the organisation to decide what’s important for business?

Chris Shortt, group executive: information and technology at Pick n Pay, responded and said “IT is no longer a back-office support function, but rather a very important, strategic role in helping a business succeed and thrive. It is becoming increasingly important that IT forms part of executive decisions to drive technological enablement of a business.

“CIOs have to play a very active and strategic role to maximise success. Depending on the context of the business and their IT history, a CIO has to be pretty active to ensure that there aren’t ‘rogue’ purchases all over the business,” he added.

For Doron Klotz, CIO at RMB, CIOs know the business better than is generally perceived. “In fact,” he said, “IT actually understands the business better than most because we essentially built the business; we actually have to position ourselves as the change agents for the business as the IT department.”

Abdul Baba, CTIO at Infrastructure SA, on the other hand, believes that past successes are the best way to get buy-in. “My strategy for introducing new technology was comparing it to what technology could do in the past, at previous companies I worked for,” he said. “We need to build trust as CIOs and convince the board that in order to be competitive and lean, these are the technologies that are needed to make a difference in achieving value for the business.”

However, Sasfin group CIO Josh Souchon’s approach is slightly different. He plans for the future by using a five-year road map. “I present a five-year view to the board every year and the game I play is similar to Doron’s, but different in the sense that I look at what I am accelerating and what I am slowing down. Our capital control policy allows me to go through a control process as it has been approved, but you need to be open and transparent,” he explained.

Yunus Scheeper, CTO at Silverbridge, said that one of the techniques that has been successful at his organisation has involved looking at the assumptions that are being made during the decision-making process. “These assumptions are prioritised and at some point in the execution of the project, they are tested and validated. If any of the significant assumptions are found to be invalid then you change tactics and direction as necessary,” he said.

Read more: The art of business value

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