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2015 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium guide: Digital disruption

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CIO forms strong business partnerships by explaining value of IT

CIOs know the importance of talking about IT initiatives in terms the business understands. In the digital era, however, fluency in "business speak" isn't enough to forge strong C-level relationships, says Peter Nichol, head of IT at Access Health CT, Connecticut's health insurance exchange, and a finalist for the 2015 MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award.

In part two of this three-part interview, Nichol sat down with site editor Francesca Sales at the event to dig into how he forms business partnerships. Educating peers about the value of IT is key.

More on digital disruption from MIT

Part one: The digital CIO's balancing act

Part three: Understanding business models is key to the CIO role in digital projects

Why the AT&T CIO predicts 80% digitization of customer relations by 2020

Digital CIOs take charge as new competitive threats loom

Let us know what you think of this story on communicating the value of IT to C-level peers; email Francesca Sales, SearchCIO site editor.

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Transcript - CIO forms strong business partnerships by explaining value of IT

What other tactics are you taking [to deal with digital disruption]? Are you hiring digital experts? Are you partnering with other digital competitors?

Peter Nichol: I think to be able to be competitive you have to partner. Not a lot gets done in a silo that's effective [and] that gets broad organizational engagement, so as we reach across our organization and leverage finance and our chief financial officer, and marketing and other types of areas within different business units, it's important to get their involvement to be able to foster adoption. You're not really going to get their engagement or adoption if they're not engaged early in the process. So, part of that is bringing them through that journey, getting them educated and not making it all about IT and how cool this technology is, but understanding how it applies to this business and how do we accelerate delivery as an organization.

How are you crafting that language when you're talking to those other groups? Is that a challenge because you're coming from an IT background?

Nichol: It's always a challenge. I think that when you're dealing with diverse backgrounds, you can be an expert in one area and totally oblivious in another. Part of it is making sure you're speaking a language that is translatable and can be digested easily; it means breaking it down to individuals and trying to help build some level of adoption inside the organization and show where those technologies do have value. Software as a service in itself doesn't add much value, but if you apply it in a business context, now you get a faster time to market, now you're more versatile, now you're more flexible, those customers get more functionality quicker -- that has value. And as we start to think about educating the board and other stakeholders, one of the opportunities we have is to help redefine value as not always resulting in immediate revenue. And one of the paradigms is, 'Well, we will do this and it will immediately hit the bottom line tomorrow, and it's not going to be 30, 60 or 90 days.' Sometimes that education is a little bit lengthy, and it takes time and patience to do that.

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Essential Guide

2015 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium guide: Digital disruption

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How do you overcome IT "language barriers" when forging business partnerships?
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I work in software QA, so I consider it my responsibility to communicate with business owners and understand what it is that they're trying to achieve, and the business goals behind it. That's the only way that I can truly make assure that we're delivering a solution that suits them. 

So when talking with business owners, I talk in terms of goals. Sometimes I might talk in terms on technology, but it depends on how technical each individual is. 
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Maybe it's my company's firewall, but I can never get TechTarget videos to work. I just get a spinning white arc in the lower right corner of a black video window.
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Hi FredSandsmark! I just tested out the video and it appears to be working for me so it sounds like it's related to your firewall. 
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