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CIOs, Stop Supporting "The Business"


Is this a call for a global IT strike?  No, this is about the specific use of the words “the business.” Saying that IT supports the business is suggesting that IT is not part of the business, but an ancillary area that provides support when necessary.  This is definitely no longer the case.

Rewind 10 years ago: A vast majority of IT leaders in the hospitality space reported to the CFO. On rare occasions, it was the COO, VP of HR, or more recently, the CMO. Facebook was just coming of age, the first iPhone rolled out, Microsoft Vista and the revolutionary Word 2007 were released along with Microsoft Surface (no, not the one you've heard of). A lot of disruptive technology was threatening to confuse business leaders, which led to their seeking a higher level of geek that could make sense of it all. It was an attempt to achieve status quo while using a new set of higher-powered tools.

5 years ago: A few forward-thinking companies had recognized that technology was ubiquitous in every area of their business. They understood that they could no longer consider IT merely a service organization that supports the business. On the contrary, IT needed to be consulted on almost every business decision and should be an integral part of overall company strategy. These enlightened companies realized that the IT leader has to have a seat at the proverbial "table" and needs to be a true business leader, not just someone who can configure Microsoft Vista on the CEO's laptop.

Today: There are more companies than ever who have C-level technology leaders with an equal seat at the table. However, it is difficult to understand the huge percentage of companies that still haven't made this happen. There are only four reasons why this might be the case.

  1. The company does not recognize the impact of technology within their business.

In restaurants, unless you are a cash business and have a scant few products to manage, you rely on technology to accept payments, keep track of what you sell, what you buy, who you employ, who you market to, and just about everything else.  Technology touches everything! There are so many examples of restaurants that have been negatively impacted for not securing their payment networks.  Many don’t understand how much money they are losing because they don’t have visibility into their cost of goods or labor.  Still more are losing market share solely because they don’t reach guests using ubiquitous digital methods.  It is simple: technology is a critical part of a well-run restaurant company.


  1. The company doesn't fully appreciate the effectiveness of having a business leader in technology.

Maybe execs aren’t yet aware that strong, business-minded technology leaders actually exist.  I understand that in 2007 it was easier to find a four-leaf clover than a tech leader that could talk business, but not so much today.  I went back to school in the late ‘90s to get my MBA because I wanted to be able to see technology through the lenses of the CEO, CFO, and CMO.  Technology leaders cannot just talk technology anymore; they must be incredibly well versed in all areas of the business in order to make the best choices for the company.  The CIO is the conduit connecting all areas of the business.  They see how information flows within the company and between the company and its guests, staff, and partners.  Having a technology leader that can understand the impact of technology to the P&L can take the company well beyond one who cannot and becomes one of the most influential positions in the company.


  1. The incumbent technology leader is not capable of convincing the company of the value of technology-business alignment OR his/her own value to the company.

This may be why the two points above are true in many cases.  If the company doesn't fully appreciate the effectiveness of having a business leader in technology, it may be because the current technology leader is not able to effectively communicate its value.  This may be because the tech leader does not possess a strong talent for persuasion or because he or she doesn’t personally qualify as the person to make it happen.  It doesn’t mean that this person is not a highly-qualified technology leader. It may just mean that they are not a CIO.  A chief information officer collaborates on the company’s vision, defines strategy that supports the vision, effectively communicates the value of technology, and leads during times of disruptive change.  A CIO must speak the language of business, not only the language of acronyms. 


  1. The company is just too small for a full-time technology executive.

This is a legitimate reason for not having a C-level technology executive.  In this case, the company probably doesn’t have dedicated leaders in other business areas either.  Start-ups, single store concepts, and smaller multi-unit groups are lean and mean.  There is a threshold where adding to the executive team makes sense.  There is a value to everything.  A company doesn’t want to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a top CIO, when the opportunities to take full advantage of their skills aren’t constantly there.  Paying a top CIO to fix your printer isn’t the best use of the top dollar they demand.  In fact, it’s hard to find a top CIO that would tolerate fixing printers as a regular job duty.  There are options now for this scenario, where a company can hire a part-time CIO.  That way they only pay top dollar for top dollar work and leave the printer fixing to someone a bit more affordable.


To summarize, technology is vital to any restaurant.  Whether or not the company is large enough for a full-time CIO is a legitimate question. In my opinion, a company with more than 150 units should have a business-minded CIO. If such a company doesn’t have a CIO (or one that is trusted in the boardroom), it should assess why that is.  Is it because the company does not grasp the importance of technology as a fundamental part of the business or is it because of the person in that role? In either case, it is time for IT to stop supporting the business…and become the business.


Joe Tenczar is the Chief Information Officer for Sonny’s BBQ, one of the largest and most popular barbecue restaurant companies in the country. Tenczar joined Sonny’s BBQ in 2014 with a focus on creating the franchise restaurant technology blueprint of the future.  Tenczar has also led the Marketing, Finance, and Purchasing areas for Sonny’s while acting as CIO. Additionally, Tenczar is a founding partner of 3CIOs, a “CIO-as-a-Service” company where he and two CIO partners collaborate to represent hospitality companies on a fractional basis.

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