Monday, October 18, 2010

Aligning IT with the Business - A Buyer-Oriented Translation Tool

"We've got to align IT with the business."

How many times have you seen THAT phrase in the IT press or heard it from the mouths of CIOs?  Usually followed by terms like, "leverage", "core competencies", "shareholder value" and other MABUSHI phrases that no one understands or believes.

I've heard it said that a lot of problems are caused by business people who don't understand technology asking technologists who don't understand the business to fix their problems.  It's kind of like speaking Klingon to a Ferengi when your universal translator is broken.

Is it your job as a product marketer to jump in and magically align IT with the business?  No.  And please don't try.  Your family and career will thank you.

You can, however, as the buyer expert, be the translator so your sales people know what language to speak when they talk to the different buyers.  Again, it puts your team in the position of talking about impact to the organization rather than the efficiency of your dilithium crystals. 

Here's how you can lay out a sales tool that shows the logic and language flow.  I do it in a spreadsheet for flexibility and readability.
  • Business Owner
    Their title and name of division, if appropriate.  This is going to be the VP of Sales, Supply Chain Director, VP of Customer Services, etc.
  • Business Problem
    This is how they see their issues, their bonus being impacted, their business being disrupted.  It's going to say things like, "Customer shipments are not arriving as planned and this results in our paying fines to them for being wrong." Or "My sales people aren't closing as many deals because they aren't getting the right data at the right time."  Include sales or other operational metrics like, "Profitability is down 4% this quarter."
  • IT Owner
    CIO, IT Director, whoever has the responsibility for the part of the stack that has the problem.
  • IT Problem
    Description of what is going wrong in IT to cause the problem the business owner is having.  Name the systems or processes that are failing.  Say things like, "When jobs take too long to complete or the database gets corrupted, it takes too long to recover those jobs.  We have to manually roll back the database and manually restart the job."  Be specific.  If the IT owner isn't making his bonus, either, include that in the description, too.
  • How IT Deals With the Problem Now
    Describe the stone knives and bear skins they are using now.  Include man hours and other information.  "We allocate 3 people full time to handle the problem.  It occupies 30% of their time each week."
  • Wouldn't It Be Nice If...
    You could automate this manual process so that X, Y, and Z. Use general terms that just so happen to describe how your product works.  Avoid specific features unless that particular feature is the key to the solution.
  • Solution
    Your product(s), highlighting the features that address this particular problem. 
  • Metric
    This is absolutely KEY.  Part of the metric will be for the business owner: Profitability will rise by x%.  Sales will increase by # per year, etc.  Use the business owner's language and metrics.  He will have told you what they are when you built your persona.  The other part will be for the IT owner.  Use language and metrics that are for them: Half a person instead of 3 to do this function, saving X dollars per year.  Operating costs will drop by this percent. System outages that currently cost $thousand each will be eliminated because...
The Easy Reference Guide I talked about last time is product oriented.  You should have one for every product in your portfolio.  This tool is buyer oriented.  Create one for every business buyer you have. You can have many problems for each business owner - solved by a particular combination of your products.  You can have multiple business owners with different problems in an organization.  You can have multiple business owners with different problems solved by one of your products but with different success metrics in each application. 

At the end of the day, your sales people will show they understand the problems each buyer has by using the language and metrics of those buyers.  Your competitor who just wants to talk about his neural pathway technology will look pretty silly in comparison.

Next up: Getting to the Business Owner

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