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Giving You the Business

Rather than treat customers like naive outsiders who couldn't possibly understand the bottom-line pressures of big business, Bezos addresses them as partners -- members of the Amazon tribe, so to speak. This candor and inclusiveness breed loyalty.

IT professionals should consider applying the Bezos touch to their own dealings -- at least with the business colleagues who evaluate their technical recommendations. Rather than view these colleagues as pawns to be manipulated or obstacles to be overcome, try approaching them as a trusted adviser would. Articulate the pitfalls as well as the potential of proposed projects. Offer them the option of smaller, more manageable project deliverables as an alternative to taking on massive risk. Show them you're flexible, that you're on the same team.

If these business colleagues need to be educated about technology -- say, the finer points of IP telephony or Linux -- take the time to educate them. Business managers can absorb technical detail, so long as you don't bog down the discussion in minutia. As for proving the business value of technology investments, put together your own ROI analysis rather than offer up the vendor's canned approach. Or be prepared to argue why vendor analyses don't apply in that particular case. But resist the temptation to fudge the numbers to show how a tech investment will deliver revenue or cut costs. At a time when WorldCom, Rite Aid, Xerox and Enron have lost all credibility for cooking their books, it's no time to be cooking yours.

One chief financial officer of a progressive though cost-conscious company asks his IT colleagues to don the cap of a business owner when making the case for tech projects. Would they be as supportive of the proposed investment if they owned the company shelling out the dollars? (It's a question congressional leaders should ask themselves the next time they're asked to appropriate millions of dollars for Amtrak...or mohair production, tattoo removal and other pork programs.) If under the business-owner scenario a tech project feels less urgent, you should probably think twice about attempting to sell it to management.

Accept the fact that no company buys technology products based solely on how they perform. Of course, IT professionals must continue to evaluate product features, scalability, manageability, integration, reliability and usability. But you must also get a better handle on whether those products deliver tangible returns and whether those products' vendors are good companies to do business with. In short, think more like your business peers and less like pure technologists.

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