In an era of shadow IT and business units having increased technical know-how, how IT is perceived matters. It says whether IT is invited to the table to discuss initiatives during the planning phase or afterwards to clean up the mess created and integrate what the business bought to the rest of the tech stack.

Even more, it says whether IT, who often has the best understanding of "the art of the possible," is part of the digital transformation conversation. Given this, IT’s brand with the rest of the business and business leadership matters. So, what do CIOs think and how can they become brand builders?

Establishing the Message for IT

According to former CIO Joanna Young, “IT has a brand — known or unknown, deserved, or undeserved. IT leaders need to be thoughtful about their internal brand. Does it comport with the value they are or should be delivering?”

Clearly, it is too easy for IT to be seen as separate from the real business. Or even worse as a utility. An effective IT organization demonstrates alignment for credibility and partnership. Everything starts, says Deb Gildersleeve, “with the rest of the business understanding that IT is in line with the business. IT is not standalone. For this reason, if what IT is working on cannot be linked back to the business strategy then IT is working on the wrong things.”

Related Article: What Does It Mean to Be a Digitally Savvy CIO?

How Can CIOs Overcome a Utility View of IT?

IT organizations should no longer see themselves as a utility as was suggested by Nicholas Carr in 2003. If this change did not happen before COVID, COVID should have represented a turning point. University of Miami CIO says that “pre-COVID, the legacy, a utility view often occurred because IT organizations functioned as utility. In a world where we went remote, we now need to keep the momentum and strategic connections. We need to avoid sliding back, and instead help move our organizations forward in their view of IT.”

Clearly partnership is critical to overcoming the utility view of IT. Young says that “IT organizations need to partner with lines of business to deliver technology associated with new or enhanced products in a way that delights customers. And ergo sustainable revenue growth and retention. And it is OK to start with something small and iterate to the big wins.”

In order to accomplish this, Gildersleeve suggests, “CIOs should have discussions with other leaders in the organization. They should find out their pain points, solve some of them or suggest bigger ideas than they might have even thought about. When you talk to the business, speak the language of the business explaining where technology can help. IT should connect the dots across silos in the business to solve cross-functional problems.” Having built partnerships across the organization, Financial Services CIO Dennis Klemenz adds, “then let the actions speak for themselves. Everyone will say it will get better. Listen to C-suite and make it better based on how they measure better.”

Creating the IT Brand

Building the IT brand starts by over delivering for customers regardless of whether it is for a product or a service business. For IT, it is important to make and meet the right commitments. Additionally, it is important to remember that you deliver more than technology. You are enabling the people, process, and technology needed to accelerate or enhance business results.

To do this successfully, IT needs to be more than a good listener to partners, peers, and customers. IT needs to become a trusted strategic partner, guide, and advisor. And with this, IT needs to deliver meaningful solutions. Doing this right will delight business partners and enable them to see where business process change is needed.

With this accomplished, there is more that CIOs can do. Klemenz argues for an IT rebranding. He says, “this means you need to sell the journey and tell the story of how the journey will progress. Then you visually show the progression as it occurs. This lets the actions and progress show the brand works.” For Gildersleeve, “case studies are a better way to get the message out and have people repeat it for you. There needs to be a calculation of ROI as well but that does not always tell the story in the way you need.”

Learning Opportunities

While Young agrees with the value of case studies, she says it is critical not “to be seen as not over-marketing and keeping the message simple. The best reward is investment to do more good stuff.” Seidl concludes by saying, “there are other elements to building an IT brand. I had put in the running (trust, for example). But I tend to prefer organizations where case studies and impact matter more than deeply precise ROI.”

Related Article: Why — and How — CIOs Support Customer Experience Programs

Role of Storytelling in Reimagining the IT Brand

CIOs say storytelling is a great way to share IT wins or to describe how IT problems are solved. It represents a way to share how IT thinks about the future of your company and where the systems can help drive that future. Seidl asserts, “I love it when we succeed enough that our partners or customers do storytelling on our behalf. Until then, we need to find, tell, and emphasize the stories that support what we are doing. And we need to tell ourselves stories that connect us to partners.”

In terms of the process working, Young says, “Know your audience. What type of storytelling will they enjoy and be eager to hear and invest more. Do not write War and Peace when a 2-minute video will do.” Klemenz agrees and says, “storytelling is everything, as long as the story is nonfiction. Do not make stuff up, just share the journey. Technology is a never-ending quest; the journey of the quest is what matters. Tell that story and sell it to others. The story should be compelling!”

Advice for New CIOs

New CIOs should start by discovering the current shape of the IT brand. They should start by asking themselves how they want IT to represent itself inside and outside the organization. Following this, they should do a 360 review or survey to gauge the perception of IT inside and outside the organization. The delta between these matters.

Young agrees with the notion of soul search phase, CIOs should “do a listening tour to figure out the current brand. Consider doing a survey to get broad input. Include IT itself to be able to show the team how perceptions differ. You should know the starting point and the perception gaps.” In addition to a survey, Gildersleeve says, “build relationships with your peers out of the process. Align IT with the strategy of the organization. Talk about what IT is working on and where it is going on within that framework.”

Parting Words: From Information Chiefs to Growth Chiefs

In a recent interview with Linda Yates, she suggested that CIOs need to become their organization's chief growth officers because they uniquely know the art of the possible for their organizations.

To do this and enable their organizations to transform digitally, CIOs need to build their own and their organizations’ brand. Only by taking this action can they be at the table and help drive the transformation needed for their organizations to succeed at digital.