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Business Acumen Isn’t Built in the Classroom — HANYS’ CIO Embeds It in Workflows

By Vivek Swaminathan | November 19, 2019 | 0 Comments

contributed by Cameron Gilbert, Gartner for Midsize Enterprises
While CIOs know business acumen improves outcomes, they struggle to build it in IT employees. In-class training, rotations and coaching are costly and require too much time to improve IT outcomes. But building business acumen in midsize enterprises (MSEs) doesn’t have to take more time and money. Instead, CIOs at progressive companies can help IT employees build business acumen by looking for ways to apply it to existing workflows. By identifying critical moments and guiding employees to make informed decisions, the CIO of the Healthcare Association of New York State, Inc. (HANYS) improved IT’s business acumen by 20% across the team.
The CIO of HANYS recognized that while employees pay attention to execution and technical tasks after a project is underway, they often lose sight of business objectives. But a timely solution that doesn’t fix the stakeholder problem is unlikely to generate much satisfaction for IT’s efforts. To help IT avoid project outcomes that fail to meet business objectives, HANYS helped employees stay focused on business outcomes throughout the project life cycle. IT employees reoriented themselves to business needs, then assessed outcomes to recommend decisions. HANYS formalized these steps in its Business Acumen Framework (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: HANYS Business Acumen Framework

Figure 1: HANYS Business Acumen Framework
  • Reorient IT employees’ attention to business outcomes using indicators: HANYS identifies critical moments where engagement indicators with business partners have changed. These situations provide opportunities to reorient employees’ attention to business outcomes.
  • Assess the business context with probing questions: HANYS asks questions to assess the current state, identify root cause problems and assess unknowns and changes to business objectives.
  • Provide employees with a decision framework: HANYS identifies common failure patterns and maps out appropriate actions. This framework guides IT employees on how to apply business acumen to determine the best course of action.


After applying a “reorient, assess, decide” framework to keep IT employees focused on business objectives, HANYS observed the business acumen of team members had improved. Twenty percent more IT team members exhibited business acumen than before HANYS made the effort to develop it (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Results: Percentage of Teams With Business Acumen

Figure 2: Results: Percentage of Teams With Business Acumen
Most CIOs understand the importance of business acumen for IT, but struggle to find time and resources to build it. Instead of hoping for the best, progressive CIOs at midsize enterprises can support development by helping IT employees apply business acumen during critical moments within project workflows.
Whether you are curious to understand business acumen at midsize enterprises, or actively developing team skills, there is no reason for anyone to build that knowledge from scratch. Instead, it makes sense to leverage the lessons and best practices of other midsize companies that have already figured out the best way forward.  Access additional midsize enterprise guidance on or tap into our community of Midsize Enterprise Executive Partners to product line management for your organization.  Can’t access links?  Talk to us about becoming a client.

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