Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Educating Non-Tech Execs about Tech (In 5 Hours or Less)

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Last month I wrote about Ten Things the IT Department Should Tell Management. I got a lot of mail about the list (though not as many as I got from the 10 new rules for IT piece I published in July – which nearly got me killed). After the August article, I received several challenges from CIOs and CTOs – and even a few CFOs – to develop a program that would embed the “10 things” in a form that would be “acceptable” to executives. The emails argued that while being a smart ass was entertaining, it wouldn’t sell on mahogany row. Fair enough.

One of the challengers put it this way: “if you had 5 hours to communicate a message, what would it be?” Reasonable question. Here are the topics I’d cover if I had 5 hours with the non-technology senior management team – 5 hours to communicate what technology is all about – 5 hours to deliver a “program” of issues and opportunities – 5 hours to get them thinking the “right” way about business technology.

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First, it occurs to me that the program should be designed to be delivered as a whole or in parts, or in abbreviated form, with all of the parts compressed into a single presentation. Why all this fidgeting with the pieces? Because senior executives have ADD and there’s no way to predict how long they’ll sit still or how much time they’ll actually commit to learning more about technology.

Don’t believe this? Test it by announcing a 3-day program on “Business Technology for Non-Technology Executives” and see how quickly the screaming begins.

Three modules make sense to me:

1. Technology Architecture & Infrastructure
2. Technology Challenges & Opportunities
3. Trends & Best Practices

The first module – Technology Architecture & Infrastructure – should be designed to explain the basics: hardware, software, databases, communications and services.

I suspect that many non-technology executives don’t understand “architecture” or “infrastructure.” We need to make them feel comfortable about what they don’t know, making sure we don’t embarrass anyone or make anyone feel uncomfortable about their knowledge of the basics. It should be treated as an “overview” of current technology, so the executives feel as though they are being updated rather than educated. (I’m sensitive to this aspect of bonding with executives: several times a year I present to the Wharton Advanced Development and CFO-as-Strategic Partner Programs – all very senior executives. The presentation to them is around “what they need to know to optimize business technology management,” not on lecturing them about what they don’t know.)

The second module – Technology Challenges & Opportunities – should be designed to communicate the complexity of running technology architectures and infrastructures, and to communicate opportunities for business technology integration, especially the use of technology for cost management and competitive advantage.

Examples here would include network reliability, security, data synchronization, 24/7 eBusiness transaction processing, organization and governance. The purpose of this module would be to communicate the challenges that technology managers face as they deliver cost-effective technology services to a growing number of professionals.

The third module – Trends & Best Practices – should present some emerging technologies that could help the company save money/make money.

This could be a fun module since it would demonstrate that there are emerging technologies that could really help the company do some interesting and useful things. Some of the technologies to be covered would include business intelligence, Web analytics, and selected Web 2.0 tools and techniques.

The overall objective of the program would be to bring executives and managers up to speed on technology environments, technology challenges and opportunities, technology trends, and acquisition, deployment and support best practices.

The intended “effect” of the program should be to:

• Deepen executive understanding of business technology and the important role it plays in all aspects of business.

• Increase executive appreciation for the complexity of managing technology globally.

• Excite executives about technology as a significant lever for cost management and strategic advantage.

Form? Lots of short videos, examples, case studies and stories about the competition – that will really get them interested – and keep them engaged. Can you spell “edutainment”?

Is there anything else you would add?

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