Organizations are constantly challenged to keep up with technological advancements. Application modernization is often painted out to be the solution to boost productivity, retire outdated mainframe infrastructures, and reduce reliance on legacy code. However, securing C-suite support for these initiatives can be a daunting task due to a fundamental disconnect between the perspectives of business leaders and IT teams.

Understanding the executive approval challenge

Differing priorities between executives and IT teams

One of the primary hurdles in gaining C-suite support for application modernization lies in the differing priorities between executives and IT teams. IT departments primarily focus on boosting productivity, retiring mainframe infrastructure, and reducing legacy code dependency. In contrast, executives prioritize enhancing customer experience and ensuring readiness for cloud migration. This misalignment often results in only half of the modernization projects receiving approval.

To bridge this gap, IT leaders must communicate the benefits of modernization in terms that resonate with the C-suite. For instance, in a challenging economic environment, framing application modernization as a cost-saving measure can be more appealing to executives. This involves translating technical challenges into business language and aligning IT needs with overarching business outcomes.

The growing role of executive leadership in tech decisions

Traditionally, technology decisions were primarily the domain of IT departments. However, there is a growing trend of executive leaders taking a more active role in shaping technology strategies. These leaders are increasingly focused on factors like business competitiveness, return on investment (ROI), and maintaining a competitive advantage.

On the other hand, IT departments concentrate on operational aspects such as security, scalability, and efficiency. This difference in focus can hinder the initiation and funding of modernization projects. To gain C-suite support, IT leaders must understand the evolving priorities of business leaders and align aspects of modernization projects with these trends. For example, a CEO might be interested in workforce engagement, while a CFO might focus on data and analytics.

To address the “later” philosophy often encountered by executives who prefer delaying modernization, IT leaders should delve into the opportunity costs and risks of inaction. This includes highlighting cybersecurity threats and competitive disadvantages that may arise from postponing modernization efforts.

Strategies for gaining C-suite support

Aligning language and goals

To secure C-suite support for application modernization, IT leaders must align their language and goals with those of the executives. This means effectively communicating how modernization initiatives directly impact business objectives. By framing modernization projects as drivers of cost savings, revenue growth, or customer satisfaction, IT leaders can make a compelling case for executive backing.

Understanding executive mindsets

Understanding the mindset of business leaders is crucial in gaining their support. This involves staying informed about the latest trends and priorities in the executive world. For instance, if the CEO is keen on enhancing workforce engagement, IT leaders can emphasize how modernization can improve employee productivity and satisfaction. Similarly, if the CFO is focusing on data and analytics, highlighting the data-driven benefits of modernization can be persuasive.

Addressing the “later” philosophy

When executives express hesitation about modernization, IT leaders should go beyond acknowledging their concerns and provide detailed insights into the risks of delay. This includes highlighting the potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities that outdated systems may pose and illustrating how competitors may gain an edge through timely modernization efforts.

Implementing a Phased Approach

Overcoming the “Big Bang” perception

One common misconception that IT leaders must combat is the perception of modernization as a risky, all-at-once endeavor. This perception can be a significant barrier to gaining C-suite support. To address this, IT leaders should advocate for a phased approach to modernization.

A phased approach involves breaking down large modernization projects into smaller, manageable phases with measurable outcomes. This not only reduces perceived risks but also allows organizations to demonstrate progress and benefits at each stage. By presenting tangible results and mitigating concerns about disruptions, IT leaders can alleviate the “Big Bang” perception that often deters executive support.

Pilot projects as a starting point

Starting with pilot projects can be an effective strategy to gain C-suite support for broader modernization initiatives. Pilot projects serve as a testing ground for new technologies, processes, and approaches. They allow organizations to evaluate resources, identify challenges, and build credibility by delivering tangible results.

By successfully executing pilot projects, IT leaders can showcase the feasibility and advantages of modernization, which can then pave the way for support and funding for larger-scale initiatives.

Ensuring continuous C-suite buy-in

Early engagement with leadership

To ensure ongoing support from the C-suite, IT leaders should engage with executive leadership from the outset of modernization projects. Keeping executives informed about costs, timelines, and project details is essential. This early engagement fosters transparency and allows executives to understand the strategic value of modernization.

Involving the C-suite in the decision-making process helps IT leaders gain and maintain executive buy-in and commitment to the long-term success of modernization initiatives.

Establishing ongoing communication

Maintaining open communication and feedback loops with executive leadership is crucial throughout the modernization journey. Regular updates and progress reports keep executives well-informed and provide opportunities for necessary adjustments. This ongoing dialogue ensures that the project remains aligned with the organization’s goals and objectives.

Final thoughts – Collaborative approach for maximum benefit

Bridging the gap between the priorities and perspectives of executives and IT teams is essential for initiating, funding, and successfully executing modernization projects. IT leaders need to speak the language of the C-suite, align technical challenges with business outcomes, and understand the evolving mindset of business leaders. Overcoming the perception of modernization as a risky endeavor involves advocating for a phased approach and leveraging pilot projects to build credibility.

Continuous buy-in from the C-suite is achieved through early engagement and ongoing communication. Adopting these strategies and fostering collaboration between executives and IT teams chart the way for organizations to unlock the necessary support to drive successful application modernization and reap the benefits of enhanced efficiency, competitiveness, and customer satisfaction.

Tim Boesen

January 18, 2024

5 Min read