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Justifying Java to the top

  • May 1, 1998
  • By Jack M. Keen
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Justifying Java to the top
What does it take to sell a technology like Java to the people who count the most--senior management?
By Jack M. Keen

May 1998

You can start with a thorough knowledge of Java. Add to that the ability to make a business case without resorting to the technical bells and whistles that have become so prevalent in any discussion of Java. Lastly, fold in timing as a key ingredient: A brief, personal encounter with a senior executive can be more influential than the most elaborately planned business meeting.

Say, for example, that you, a respected IT manager at a hard goods manufacturing plant, step into an elevator to ride to the 24th floor of your office building. To your surprise, entering at the same time is your CEO, a woman known for her no-nonsense approach. A small smile in your direction confirms she recognizes you. You return the gesture.

Shifting into your most succinct mode, you remember to sell the boss on the business benefit first, not the technology.

As the ride begins, you mentally search for a cool, executive-like comment, perhaps dealing with golf. She breaks the silence.

CEO: What is this Java thing I read in The Wall Street Journal? Why should I care?

YOU: (Shifting into your most succinct mode, you remember to sell the business benefit first, not the technology.) Java can help us increase market share--the goal you emphasized at our recent all-employee meeting. Because Java is a new computer language with widespread business uses, it can help expand our competitive edge.

CEO: Frankly, the name "Java" sounds like a joke. Is it really important? I don't worry about the paint color on the underbelly of our products. Why is Java different?

YOU: Java is important for the same reason you had manufacturing switch from metal to polymer plastic for our Acme products: While our customers won't directly see Java, they will benefit from it. Think of Java as similar to the "hidden" steel structure of an innovative building. Although unnoticed, it provides strength, versatility, and cost effectiveness to the whole structure.

CEO: But different buildings require different steel structures. Is that also true with Java?

YOU: Absolutely. Remember in our last annual report when you said we want to boost our market share by getting new products out the door faster?

CEO: Yes, of course.

YOU: Well, engineering says several new computer applications can dramatically reduce our product development cycles. Java could get these new applications up and running in one-third the time usually required. That would mean roughly $10 million in incremental revenues from getting to market faster.

CEO: Yes, but has Java really scored any big business hits thus far?

YOU: Definitely. An article called "The Java payback" in the May 1998 issue of PlugIn Datamation discusses two great examples. Would you like to see it?

CEO: Absolutely. But you make Java sound like the latest IT panacea. I'm skeptical.

YOU: Java has risks and trade-offs, like any business asset. I recall that the polymer plastic we adopted required more costly training and preparation for our injection molding crew. Yet, you said it was worth it.

CEO: So what's the downside of Java?

YOU: (Talking faster as the elevator nears the CEO's floor.) The disadvantages include slow application execution speed, some incompatibility issues, and immature programming tools.

CEO: Sounds serious.

YOU: Interestingly, the software that controls 85% of our data storage had similar disadvantages two years ago. These problems were overcome--faster than expected.

(The elevator stops at the 19th floor.)

CEO: (Walking out the door.) I'm sure the Java decision is more complex than what we discussed on this ride.

YOU: It is. We just covered the highlights. A more detailed discussion of the pros and cons of Java from a larger business perspective can be found in a number of analyst reports and other resources. There's also a Java decision-factors checklist. I could send you an e-mail if you like.

CEO: Definitely. You know, you're the first IT manager I've met who could engage in a quick conversation free of techno-babble. How do you do that?

YOU: It's similar to adjusting a problem in your golf swing. You just keep practicing. You have to allow for occasional misses however.

CEO: (Disappearing behind a mahogany door) Thanks for the food for thought.

Epilogue: Two weeks later, the CIO makes a presentation about shifting application development to Java. The CEO's Executive Committee approves the recommendation and Java becomes the primary language for strategic, network-based applications. The slide presentation you prepared was a key selling point. With your reputation for good executive communication intact, you abandon your fallback strategy of improving your golf game to maintain your job.//

Jack M. Keen is founder and president of The Deciding Factor, a Basking Ridge, N.J.-based international consulting firm( http://www.decidingfactor.com) specializing in tools, best practices, and workshops for building better business cases faster. A frequent guest speaker, Keen has advised more than 100 organizations in 15 countries.

If you would like to receive a copy of the bulletin "How to Use Java's 'Faster Development Time' Advantage to Get Executive Buy-In," e-mail Jack Keen at jkeen@decidingfactor.com.

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