Understanding your value as an IT partner

If all you bring to the executive table is data, then you won't be perceived as a partner. Bringing wisdom to the table is another story.

What's the value you bring to your organization -- data or wisdom? If it's just data, you're not much of a partner and you'll never be viewed that way. However, if you bring wisdom to the table, your value is an integral part of the company that cannot be annexed or outsourced.

In case you missed the headlines, there's been a crescendo-ing voice in the industry to partner with the business instead of merely being a service provider. Your success in doing this depends on how the idea of partnership is realized within your organization.

All too often, I see CIOs and other IT leadership embrace the idea of partnership and actually build a good argument to the C-level partners that is accepted. The ostensible partnership is then immediately compromised by the CIO's own service-prone mentality. Just as soon as they shake hands with the CEO, the next question is, "OK, good, what do you want me to do next?"

The first step is to understand and, more importantly, believe your own value to the organization, and it's not data -- it's wisdom. The wisdom hierarchy (aka the knowledge pyramid) graphically depicts the ascent from data to wisdom, passing information and knowledge on the way. The corollary to you is a parallel model that depicts your value to the organization, which I call the IT Value Pyramid.

If you're at the data level, you're a service supplier and you provide only slightly more value than the lunch wagon. Others place their order and wait for you to prepare their data. They complain about how long it takes to get their data, in the same way you start pacing and peering back to the cooking staff when you've been waiting longer than five minutes for your burrito. They consume their data, then come back for their next order.

Although we could spend some time talking about the information and knowledge mile markers, what's the point? Why would you stop there? Your goal should be wisdom, and you shouldn't stop until you get there. The organizational transformation from data supplier to wisdom partner is significant. The organization that provides wisdom has the ability to collect data, organize it into information, synthesize it into knowledge, infer strategic implication, and ultimately advise the organization on strategic direction. This is a true partnership.

A key distinction between the data model and the wisdom model is where the function of analytics lies. To transform data into wisdom, you must have the capacity within your organization to present statistics, predictive analytic models, and forecasting  algorithms into recommendations easily consumed by your other partners. That's what a real partnership is all about. You don't tell them how to market or build widgets, and they don't tell you how to analyze data. If, however, the analytical function sits outside your organization, I'm quite sure you're not a partner. You're simply an enabler to the people who do the real work.

Take some time today to review your organizational structure. Are there analytical functions sitting outside your organization? If so, approach your executive management "partners" and hold them to their agreement. Move the analysis function under your umbrella. You're the chief information officer, not the chief data supplier.

John Weathington is President and CEO of Excellent Management Systems, Inc., a management consultancy that helps executives turn chaotic information into profitable wisdom. For over 20 years, John has been an information management consultant to clients of all sizes, including Fortune 100 icons such as Sun Microsystems, Cisco, and eBay. For more information, please visit http://www.xmsystems.com.