The need for closer integration between the IT department and the rest of the business has become even more pressing in the current economic climate, according to experts speaking at IBM's Impact 2009 conference in Las Vegas this week.
Impact is IBM's service-oriented architecture (SOA) user event, and the line-up this year included spokespeople from IBM's WebSphere and BPM divisions, along with customer and partner representatives. But this year Big Blue also took the unusual step of inviting a member of its financing team to take a keynote slot.
John Callies, general manager of IBM Global Financing, took to the stage to offer tips to the gathered technology professionals on how to convince finance chiefs and business executives to sign off IT investments in a tough economic climate.
Callies started by highlighting the difficult circumstances in which IT chiefs are operating.
"There has been a significant reduction in the amount of money available for investment," he noted. "Since March 2009, we've lost about $2.1tn to $2.2tn [£1.39tn to £1.45tn] of equity from financial institutions, which equates to about $23tn [£15tn] in loans not being made. Money is expensive now."
In response to the recession, organisations are taking one of two approaches. The first is to "hunker down, hide down in the foxhole and hope they can ride this out", Callies explained. The second is to see the situation as an opportunity to gain market share and invest for future gains.
For those companies that fall in the latter camp, their chief financial officers (CFOs) are looking for investments that offer returns on a short-term basis and can be moved from capital to operational expenditure. To give technology projects a better chance of getting sign-off, IT chiefs need to speak in terminology that the finance department can understand, Callies advised.
"I implore and plead with you to learn and understand a little bit better the language that is important in 2009, which is the language of the CFO rather than the chief technology officer," Callies said.
To boost new IT investment, IBM has also announced a $2bn (£1.3bn) project fund available to support the US stimulus programme.
"IBM has been putting together a financial programme to help projects. We want to apply the strength of the IBM company to help corporations, hospitals and governments to become more resilient in these times and to be able to make strategic investments," Callies explained.
Armin Buettner, chief technology officer at car maker Audi, agreed that the divide between IT and other business departments needs addressing, using the Impact audience as evidence.
"I wonder where are the business people at this conference," he said. " Normally at events like this it's 80 or 90 per cent IT people."
Buettner explained that at present there are two separate languages, one for the business and one for technologists. "How does a business guy understand us IT people and fulfil their requirements in our language?" he asked.
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