How Bell’s CIO sells IT projects to management

TORONTO — Making the business case for advanced technology projects is becoming so difficult for IT professionals that it may be best to establish an internal practice of experts to help out, according to Bell Canada’s chief information


Eugene Roman offered his advice Tuesday following his presentation at a Toronto Board of Trade breakfast meeting. He said Bell employs a team of specialists who focus on writing business case proposals and has set up a lab in Toronto, called Excite, that can create working prototypes of systems described in the business proposals in a matter of weeks.

“”We’re IT people. We’re very good at putting systems together. We’re not good at writing business cases,”” he said. “”We got the idea (for Excite) from Ford and adopted things from a couple of other companies. It makes a big difference when you can show something. Describing value on paper is very difficult.””

Even with the resources at his disposal, Roman said convincing higher-ups at Bell to make expensive IT investments is still challenging. Preparing the business case for a middleware project last year took four months to prepare, he said, even though it only took his staff about three months to deliver the system.

“”It was brutal beyond belief,”” he said of the process. “”Seven releases later, our (measurable) ROI (return on investment) is 400 per cent. We believe our actual ROI is 2,000 per cent . . . there are systems that will deliver ROI in under a quarter.””

ROI has become a sticking point in many corporate enterprises following the downturn in the global economy. However John L. Logan, who co-founded the Aberdeen Group research firm and who also spoke at the event, focusing on ROI may not be the right metric. Logan, who wrote Evolution, Not Revolution, said companies that expect to gain a competitive advantage must be willing to take a chance on emerging, unproven technologies with a high degree of uncertainty.

“”ROI only comes from lowering cost,”” he said. “”There’s a mindset that has to change there. You have to get the CEO focused on projects because they can deliver market value.””

Market value often comes in unexpected places, Logan argued. On the Internet, for example, he said, smart companies have been able to gain market share through better customer support, not through increased sales and marketing as was expected.

“”If they say they don’t care about market value — and that does happen occasionally — you better get out your resume and move over to another company,”” Logan added.

Roman said it may take time for market value in certain systems or applications to become obvious. “”What’s the business case for e-mail?”” he asked. “”Why do we need to have a company intranet? These things seem self-evident now, but five years ago it wasn’t clear why an enterprise needed to have an intranet. Now we see that it’s a fundamentally important part of communicating with our employees.””

Developing the skills to articulate business value is apparently an important part of Bell Canada’s training program. Roman said first-year employees are asked to write the best “”business stories of the year,”” based on the company’s successes which are compiled in a 100 page book Bell publishes internally.

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