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Speak in business terms

Speak in business terms

Why thinking like an astute financial portfolio funds manager is a useful approach for managing ICT.

Atwell Williams recalls a conversation some two years ago with the CIO of a division of a global company manufacturing cars for Formula 1.

The CIO had spent a lot of time working on the IT infrastructure and was keen to talk to the other executives about it.At a meeting with the senior leadership team, the CIO told them of the "great things he has done on the infrastructure" and got only a blank stare from the audience.

The CEO said to him: "We race cars. That is what we do, so explain to me how any of what you have just told me makes the car go faster."

After this incident, Williams says the IT team at the company embraced the mantra: 'How do we make this car go faster?'

For Williams, solutions architect for the office of the CTO at BMC Software, this incident is a lesson on the imperative for CIOs to think in business terms."Don't think about an IT project anymore," he told CIO during a recent visit to Auckland.

"Think about the business project and what IT resources do I bring to it to enable this business project?"The key is really to understand what represents value to the business customer," he says. "If you are a CIO and you are trying to demonstrate the value to your business customer, then you need to understand what they value and what is important to them. Is it availability of services or is it coming up with new services to drive the business?"

This, he notes, is a universal challenge for CIOs. "What the forward thinking ones are learning to do is speak in business terminology and make sure all of their decisions and all of their discussions are couched in business terms.

"While Williams offers these insights as a vendor, his perspectives were honed from years working on the demand side of ICT. Williams started as a programmer at NASA and then became a consultant and partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

He moved to BMC where he first worked at the office of the CIO as director of service management. There, he was responsible for assuring the quality of the services ICT delivered for internal BMC across the globe."It is interesting [that] the really progressive CIOs think about themselves as portfolio managers," he says.

"When they talk about a portfolio, they think about almost [like] a financial portfolio. [When] you are managing a portfolio of stocks what do you do? You evaluate which ones give you good return, which ones don't and you get rid of those that do not."This, he says, is the same issue in ICT.

"If you think about everything you provide to the business is a service, you have got a portfolio of services and you should be working with your business customers to say, 'Is this giving particular service'?

'Is this giving you a good return in terms for what it is costing you'? If the answer is 'no', then you should be pulling them out of your portfolio."

These CIOs, he says, are trying to get beyond delivering technology to delivering services.Another interesting and positive development, he says, is when CIOs think of themselves as external service providers.These CIOs think about how to get things done cost effectively, or are thinking whether they are doing things in the most cost-effective manner.

Although based in Houston,Texas, Williams works with BMC clients across the globe on implementing Business Service Management.

One way he does this is through an 'airport simulation game'. He works with customers whose staff are asked to play roles in managing issues around a busy airport, learning lessons along the way on how to utilise the ITIL framework to make IT more efficient and effective.

The airport setting was chosen to get those participating out of their usual environment, while doing something they can relate to."It points out how important the fundamentals are," with the takeaway for CIOs including "the importance of communication, focusing on the business, the importance of making sure what you are doing in IT impacts the business", he says.

These insights resonate strongly, especially during an economic slowdown. Recent discussions with customers have shifted from straight cost-cutting to value realisation, he says. "How do I make sure that when I spend money, I am going to get a good return on investment?""Cost cutting is part of it," he says. "The other side of the coin is, 'Okay, every time I do spend money, am I getting the right value'?"

Send news tips and comments to divina_paredes@idg.co.nz

Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

Follow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nz

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