Nov 01 2006

Getting IT Done

It's our job to sell the ideas <em>behind</em> the strategy.


Photo: Steve Hockstein
Atefeh Riazi
Senior Partner and CIO of
Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide

Big ideas, even great ones, do in fact get sold, but many times decisions are made on informed faith, especially when it comes to breaking the mold and introducing ideas that pose risks as well as rewards. It’s far easier to sell ideas that focus on simple automation or tactical returns, and those projects that are short-term return on investment.

But when it comes to introducing fundamental change in the way things are done — that is, longer-term strategic implementations — the traditional ROI calculus more often than not falls short. In this area, a straightforward ROI analysis may be insufficient to determine the impact of innovative ideas, and an organization has to rely more heavily on experience, confidence in the team, and yes, vision. In these instances, the best way to make inroads so that programs and ideas get sold is to set them out strategically and show the impact they can have on the growth of the business.

What’s a practical example of that?

Selling ideas is being able to tell the story of the ideas on various levels. Some of the story (the strategic and negotiations part) is told subtly, often between the lines. Yet, too many information technology professionals tell it all too technically, without spending enough time getting buy-in from the stakeholders.

Take infrastructure as an example: We need a whole new way of securing funding for our largely invisible
infrastructure projects. The traditional approach is to pitch infrastructure investments based on standard performance metrics, redundancy and reliability, and through an in-depth technical discussion that not too many people outside IT will understand.

Rather than going down this road, we should be framing these seemingly narrow technical initiatives in terms of broader business metrics. In our case, what can an infrastructure investment do for my company when placed in a strategic context? Global and even regional organizations spend funds and resources on office space dedicated to equipment, leasing and maintaining local infrastructures. They juggle to meet local regulatory compliance demands and expend time and effort bringing new companies into the fold after mergers and acquisitions.

If you’re at a global or regional publicly traded company with diverse and disparate systems, you will soon face the high cost of getting your systems certified in every office because of redundancies, integration work and problems sharing data.

So, the challenge is to tell the compelling story about how
investments in infrastructure help address critical business issues. How can technology aid in merger and acquisition activities by integrating the new company to the organization in a matter of days instead of months? How can technology keep the company attractive to a workforce that is global and demands flexibility about where they work — and at the same time reduce facility costs by making some of its workforce mobile? How can a flexible, reliable and expandable infrastructure enable secure, real-time integration of systems between the company and its partners in a virtual world? How can technology ensure that employees can access work from anywhere, where geography and physical boundaries do not get in the way of being productive? How can technology give the company speed, flexibility and a competitive edge?

Going back to the issue of infrastructure, today we are no longer bound by geography and borders, and we no longer need to work in the same physical facility. That has drastically changed our approach to infrastructure design and investments. The time has come to virtualize and centralize infrastructure.

Atefeh Riazi is senior partner and CIO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide in New York City.