Way back in the distant past I recall the way to sell technology and services was a two-pronged affair. You would have a ‘techie’ conversation with the technical decision maker or TDM, and then you would have a separate, and very different conversation with the business decision maker or BDM. Rarely did you have this conversation in a joined-up fashion.
At that time, IT budgets were locked down in the traditional budgeting process with the business decision maker performing a senior governance role. This gatekeeper role was necessary to keep a track on IT spending versus business return on investment.
Moreover, in those days, you rarely met the IT decision maker and the business decision maker together.
But that world is changing. Today, we are increasingly finding that the person in front of the vendor combines the authority and skills of both roles.
The traditional technical person – the CIO – today behaves and talks like the traditional business person – the CEO – and vice versa. In fact, in an increasing number of the engagements in which I participate, the two roles tend to be carried out by the same person.
I recall meeting a CFO – who was, in essence, the business decision maker – telling me that I could present him with any technology proposal I liked so long as it “didn’t cost anything”. It might have sounded like a harsh thing to say but I understood what he meant and that we had to work a lot harder to meet his expectations.
However, expectations don’t always have to be defined solely by issues such as return on investment and total cost of ownership. As important as they are, stakeholders are also now looking for more agile returns, and they expect us (the IT supplier) to deliver not just the proposal in the classic way, but also to step forward and give them the ingredients to make their decision “stickier” in terms of expected business outcome.
A conversation I often hear from senior leaders is that many IT projects that were deemed valuable in the past would not be allowed to start today. Put simply, this means that from their perspective, many IT projects have become a burden because of poor definition of outcomes, poor implementation planning and ultimately, a lack of what ‘good’ looks like.
So what does this all mean? Well, for those of us who are at the sharp end of explaining the relevance of our products and services to the buyer, we need to be prepared to join the two conversations together and deal with their ever more complex requirements and expectations.
As for the new breed of IT/business decision maker, the opportunity open to them is to change the nature of the conversation altogether – to do away with the historical and redundant divide between IT and the business, and to create a genuinely aligned business IT strategy.
Such an integrated strategy should place the end-user at its core. It also needs to be governed by an explicit acceptance that the traditional prescriptive approach of the IT organisation is no longer practical or desirable.
I believe this type of approach should be replaced by a commitment to flexible, scalable systems and platforms that free the user from the device – be it desktop, tablet or smart phone – and allow the user to create a personalised digital experience that flows seamlessly across any device and location, enabling them to collaborate with colleagues, share information and deliver sustainable engagement and productivity.
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