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The Business of IT

By Greg Smiley, CIO, Florida Department of Transportation

Greg Smiley, CIO, Florida Department of Transportation

A smart CIO runs their organization like a business. After all, it is a business. They have factories to manufacture or procure products. These products can be anything from new systems to supporting operations, or even providing customer service. They manage suppliers up the supply chain, whether they are new ideas, new products, software, or hardware. They engage in research and development to design, develop, and test these products. They do their best at marketing improvements and they aim to meet their customers’ needs. Today, an IT organization is a business because its primary goal is to create value for the organization it supports.

If you view your IT operations as a business, applying strategies from various business models is an excellent way of solving difficult problems. Communication, for example, is a common issue plaguing most IT organizations. There are multiple communication channels internally across functional areas and externally with customers. The messaging needs to be translated into more customer-friendly terms or remain highly technical, depending on the audience. Even the frequency of the communication varies based on the circumstances surrounding the message. A business model that works well to address this problem is one that focuses heavily on communication, which in this case may be one that focuses on content marketing.

"If you create the right solutions for your customers at the right level of commitment, you can establish a relationship of trust that will lead to buy-in from those you support"

Content marketing is ubiquitous. With the explosion of social media popularity and the subsequent rush of advertisers looking to profit, many companies have a difficult time being heard above all the noise. As a result, advertisers turn toward creating interesting and engaging content that doesn’t sell the product but rather the brand itself. The goal shifts from slipping in as much self-promotion as possible to creating entertaining and useful information. This differentiation establishes a new level of trust with potential customers and leads to more sales.

Although the strategy of content marketing is ubiquitous now, it is not a new idea. In fact, Ben Franklin demonstrated one of the earliest examples of content marketing when he first published “Poor Richard’s Almanack” in 1732. He owned a printing press, and as a way to acquire new customers, he decided to print his own publication under the pseudonym Richard Saunders. This almanac included a calendar, weather reports, astrological information, poems, puzzles, and other content that was common for almanacs printed during that time. He also included wordplay and clever proverbs that made it a very popular publication. He sold nearly 10,000 copies each year at the height of its popularity, which was a major achievement for that period in the American Colonies. This success led to an increase in print customers and within a few years, Franklin became a respected and wealthy printer.

Content marketing is about creating a sales funnel that attracts customers and moves them closer to a sale by establishing a deeper trust relationship. Its goal is to create value, through content, to the customer that is appropriate for the level of trust that your brand has established with them. Content at the beginning of the funnel requires little commitment to gain value. At the end of the funnel is the product that requires complete buy-in. Each piece of content is designed to move the customer deeper into the funnel and establish a greater level of trust, ultimately leading to increased sales.

When applied to an IT organization, the beginning of the funnel maybe your help desk contact information left behind for a new hire. It may also consist of cheat sheets or infographics that help your customer operate day-to-day. In the middle of the funnel, you might create or provide training resources such as videos, webinars, or live training events that require more time and attention. At the end of your funnel are the actual systems your customers use. To push your customers through the trust funnel, your help desk, cheat sheets, and infographics should point your customers toward training resources to get more information. Those training resources should then drive your customers toward the systems you would like for them to use. This builds trust and buy-in by creating champions for your entire brand rather than a specific product you support or service you provide.

Content marketing and the business of IT share many common goals. If you create the right solutions for your customers at the right level of commitment, you can establish a relationship of trust that will lead to buy-in from those you support. When you gain buy-in and trust, your working relationships improve, your shadow IT footprint will shrink, and new projects will be more successful. Less time must be spent gaining buy-in through words; you’ve already established that through experiences. This specific business model may not be appropriate for your organization, but it is a great example of how you can borrow strategies from complete business models to create value for the organization that you support. If you want to align the information technology efforts with the business of the organization, treat information technology as a business.

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