English is the second language of CIOs

It keeps happening - Let me give you an example: I was sitting in a Board presentation of a CIO's budget, and the CIO said: We need 2 million year week for DR. One Board member leaned over and whispered to another: "What's DR?" The other paused for a moment and said: "Oh, that's BCM." and both sat back with comfortable looks on their faces.

It keeps happening - Let me give you an example: I was sitting in a Board presentation of a CIO's budget, and the CIO said: We need 2 million year week for DR. One Board member leaned over and whispered to another: "What's DR?" The other paused for a moment and said: "Oh, that's BCM." and both sat back with comfortable looks on their faces.

So the IT Disaster Recovery budget was approved, but at least two Board members thought they were getting full Business Continuity Management for their money.

Now the fault lies in part with the Board members for not clarifying the issue, but I've sat in enough Board meetings to know how much political ego is invested, so no-one was going to ask the stupid questions. And the problem should not have arisen anyway.

I spend a lot of my time advising CIOs on their IT budgets, and how to communicate their budget requirements in ways that business people understand. I failed in this instance, but the CIO was big enough to follow up her poor communication effort with an e-mail to the Board members explaining what DR was, and pointing out that it was definitely not BCM.

In another case, I was called by a CIO in a panic who said: "I've just been told by the finance committee to cut my budget by 20%, and go back next week with how I'll do it And I can't do it - the business will suffer."

I spent a few days with the CIO, and we mapped his budget into our business-person friendly model. Then we linked all the current budget directly to business activities - the whole budget was about keeping the IT engine going, there was no fat or project work anywhere.

Next week the CIO went back, armed with the new budget model and said: "This is what I'm spending, and these are the areas in the business that are directly supported So which 20% of these business operations do we cut?"

The committee looked taken aback, then said: "Of course we can't cut the business operations, but no-one has explained how IT supports business in this way. So keep your budget as it was."

Then one brave soul said: "Why are all the other areas in this budgeting model empty?" The CIO replied: "This is all I have and it directly supports current business operations. I have no extra budget to do projects, and upgrades and leadership stuff as shown in the model. That's why those categories of IT spend are blank."

The CIO walked out of the meeting with 40% more than he had asked for.

The question is what changed from one week to the next?

Just the way the CIO communicated.

I often get comments from CFOs about the new way CIOs communicate using the budget model: "This is the first time I've actually understood what IT actually does." One CFO said: "I have as much funding as IT wants, I just need to understand the business rationale for the spend. And until it makes sense to me, I'll keep cutting"

The common themes here are CIO communication and business understanding. The bottom line is that until CIOs speak English, they will be seen to under-deliver (For example, DR rather than BCM), and they will be denied the funds they need.

I'd call the CIO's ability to communicate in English a matter of survival.


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