Technology runs the world these days, but CIOs don't. More often than not when a business's mission is on the line, CIOs instead encounter the type of reaction Toyota Motor Sales USA VP and CIO Zack Hicks got from one fellow executive during the height of the company's vehicle recalls in 2010: Our hair's on fire; we don't have time for an IT project.

The tendency of business execs to see IT as being useful only for projects is a huge challenge for CIOs at every size enterprise, in every industry. At Toyota, Hicks has long focused his IT team on understanding what people throughout the company do every day to shorten the time between expressing a need and getting a solution, which led to many business improvements. But even if the IT group sees itself as a strategic player, the proof is ultimately whether the rest of the company feels the same way.

Recognizing that public perception was one of Toyota's main concerns during the recalls, an IT group that was testing a business analytics tool decided to apply it to complaints data received by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). "Within six hours, we had tremendous insight into what NHTSA's data was actually saying versus what the press was saying," Hicks says. The data showed some areas where Toyota could help address consumer and investor fears.

To continue reading, register here to become an Insider . You'll get free access to premium content from CIO, Computerworld, CSO, InfoWorld, and Network World. See more Insider content or sign in.