Viewpoint: James Cates

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 03-01-2002 Print Email
Brocade Communications' vice president of IT and CIO James Cates spells out the model he uses to explain IT to business executives.

Jim CatesAfter James Cates joined Brocade Communications Systems Inc., a storage technology company, as vice president of information technology and CIO in February 2000, he spent six months planning an IT architecture. Then, at a two-hour executive meeting, he made his multimillion-dollar pitch and sat down. "OK, Jim, we're convinced—let's go," said Chairman and CEO Greg Reyes. Cates wasn't exactly sure what had just happened, so afterward he asked Reyes, "When are we going to have the next meeting?"

"You don't understand, Jim. We've made the decision."

Cates had never seen such a decision made so quickly. He attributes his success to the model he uses to explain IT to business executives. Cates, who articulates his model in a colorful array of rules and acronyms, shared his ideas with CIO Insight.

I decided to put together a framework that I could use to talk to the business executives in my company, one that didn't require them to become technology geniuses. I call it the LOBI, the Ladder of Business Intelligence.

Level One is the facts level. Almost all companies have facts stored in different forms, but they can't get them together—for example, get all the data about customer X.

At Level Two, you integrate the data so that you can retrieve it by business role. A business role might be a position, such as CFO, or a function, such as accounts receivable.

At Level Three, you turn that data into information, which allows you to make some business decision. Not every part of a company has to be at this level. Only 15 percent to 20 percent of information has to be real time, for instance. If you're doing bookings, billings and backlogs, getting the data the next morning is OK, because people aren't making decisions that fast. I have a rule for this—CTIB, the Cycle Time to Implementation by Business. Understanding how quickly different business roles need information allows executives to not over-invest in IT.

Level Four is Knowledge—information with experience. You capture it in a knowledge base so that inexperienced people can use the knowledge of people with experience.

Level Five is Understanding. At this level you can do "what-if" scenarios.

Level Six is Enabled Intuition. This is the "aha" level—you're able to see things you wouldn't see before.

To move up the ladder, you employ the "LOBI Triple"—at each level, you identify the business role, determine the business processes that make that role more productive, and finally implement the technology.

We identify for each business role the top five or 10 questions you'd like to have answered every day you come in to work. We then look at the information needed to answer those questions, and then we look at the data needed to generate that information. This is a BRIA: Business Role Information Analysis. Using this has helped me interact with vice presidents. I won't build a system unless they perform this analysis.

I use this to talk to the corner office and then to the technology people who will build a system. At Brocade, with our new system we're at Level 2.5. At that level, we're able to make decisions a lot faster. We can forecast sales. We're about to be able to extract ERP data to make decisions: Are shipments in line with expectations? Is revenue meeting expectations? Most companies are at Levels One or Two. Maybe 10 percent are moving into Level Three.

The LOBI is easy to explain to "C"-level people. They get it quickly, and they relate to it. For the first time they can get a feel for where their millions in technology investments are going.



 

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