How CIOs Communicate with Business

There’s a big hunger for new technology at my company, L-3 Communications, which provides products and services primarily for the government. But in this business climate, there are a lot of constraints on what we can spend.

Earlier this year was a difficult time for decision making, because we were finalizing budgets and there had to be some trade-offs. Communicating my goals and needs to the business was essential, as was the need for business partners to articulate their requirements and determine the priorities.

We look at a number of criteria when it comes to evaluating IT investments. Does it enhance the competitive posture of the business? Does it contribute to improved communications with our distributed work force, customers and business partners? More generally, is technology helping us drive down operational costs? Looking at things year over year, are we managing more IT with the same level of people and the same level of investment?

I’ve been fortunate to be on the positive side of the spectrum of communication with business partners. I have a seat at the table, and I have an IT investment review board I meet with on a weekly basis for status discussions and on a monthly basis for spending and priorities.

Keeping those meetings on business–not technology–terms is a must. I never go too deep in explaining the nuts and bolts of a technology because there are separate avenues available for executives who want to discuss those details. Instead, the review board meetings are focused on business requirements and how well IT investments support these requirements.

Ultimately, I let the executives determine my priorities. In other words, rather than going to the board and saying, “Here’s what I want to do,” I say, “Here’s what the business requires us to do. Our resources are not sufficient to cover all the requirements at this time. Please prioritize what we should focus on first and what we should defer for later.”

The business of my division at L-3 is implementing enterprise IT solutions for the government. The mission of my organization is to enhance the competitive posture of the business, drive down costs, support an increasing number of employees with the same level of IT dollars and roll out new services that replace old, antiquated technology.

But rolling out new technology requires new levels of training for my team. Too often in downturns a business looks to slash training costs as part of overall budget cuts. I couldn’t let that happen without compromising the success of a number of infrastructure modernization initiatives we have going in the areas of storage and server consolidation, virtualization and IT service management.

My business management team got the picture. But I’m sure that plenty of others don’t. In those scenarios, you have to go back to management and explain why you can’t buy something and expect it to work magically. But you also have to show that you are a good steward of the dollars entrusted to you, and assure management that you will spend wisely. Communicating both sides of the issue is often the biggest hurdle IT pros have to overcome with their business stakeholders.

In our case, while my business partners understood that training employees on these new technologies was essential, they were far more agreeable to allowing the investment after we agreed to take the following steps, which were designed to stretch our training dollars to the maximum:

• Fully utilize the vendor resources that are freely available on the Web.

• Fully leverage vendor resources through technology centers, conferences and seminars.

• Maximize the efficiency of purchased training courses by sending in the resources best suited for the topic and maximizing class attendance.

• Include training in total-cost-of-ownership discussions with vendors and use the leverage as a buyer during the competitive procurement process to ensure that training was deeply discounted or included in the overall costs of the products.

Albert Lulushi is CIO of L-3 Communications’ Enterprise IT Solutions division.

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