Sunday, September 26, 2010

Is your IT team multi-lingual?

I had a recent experience that left me more convinced than ever that IT executives still need to do a much better job at articulating business value.  As anyone who has crossed over from pure technology to interacting with business executives can tell you, speaking in pure technical terms won't get you very far.  Yet I continue to be amazed by technology experts who rely too much on technical aspects of their products and services without putting them in a business value context.

A vendor indicated that their product could process transactions in a low latency environment.  They even quoted specific speeds down to the milliseconds.  Sounds great..... to the technical experts in the room.  But they completely lost the non-technical folks in the room.  Never assume that everyone in the room is as technical as you are.  It would have been better if they described their product on both technical and non-technical terms; as in "our product processes a transaction every 8 milliseconds; for your reference, 33 milliseconds is about how long 1 frame flashes on the screen for a video".   This leaves the non-technician with a mental picture of how fast your product works.   It would have been even better if they monetized the feature; as in "Our product processes a transaction every 8 milliseconds.  Our nearest competitor can only process a transaction every 15 milliseconds. We have found this 7 millisecond difference to be worth $5 million per year in additional revenue to our clients."  Now the business executives in the room can start engaging in how your product or service will really help him solve their problem.


If you are the CFO, it would be worth your time to teach the technical folks the language of business: Accounting.  I would start with cost accounting concepts since I believe those bring the most bang-for-buck vocabulary and behaviors.  I would focus extensively on activity-based-costing and then reap the rewards come capital budget development and project execution time.   Learning how the business makes money and the tie between cash coming in the door and the financial statement would do wonders for helping the technologist understand how to better use technology to support the business strategy.  Teaching them some portfolio management and project accounting concepts would help them deliver better results back the business. 
 
You can probably skip lessons on taxation; while you probably won't make CPAs out of programmers, a little education can go a long way towards IT executives being able to communicate business value. 

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