How to talk to your CFO about DevOps
As DevOps practitioners, we understand the value of DevOps: It helps keep our infrastructures automated, allows us to push out code regularly, and reduces the frequency of breaks. But, does our CFO understand its value as well as we do? Probably not. The question is: How do you explain the benefits of DevOps to your CFO in order to justify the cost?
The quickest way to a CFO’s heart is through his wallet. So, the key here is that as DevOps practitioners we need to talk in the CFO’s language, not our own. We need to speak in dollars and cents rather than bits and bytes. This is not dissimilar to many other instances when IT departments have to work with C-level teams that are business, if not technology focused. But sometimes this is incredibly hard for IT folks to do. It’s just not how we are wired, and similarly, CFOs aren’t wired to think like IT folks. While every CFO and organization is different, there are some common things they all care about.
For example, most CFOs love to count things, especially money. Where is it going? Why? What is the benefit to the company? What’s the ROI? You know typical bean counter type of questions that make a lot of technical people squirm.
Your CFO can be one of two types and you can have a lot to do with how your CFO views DevOps. The two types of CFO are:
- A CFO that understands the why behind DevOps and is a valuable ally to an IT organization.
- A CFO that doesn’t understand the benefits and will stifle even the best, most productive programs.
So the question is how do you wind up with CFO number 1? Well, part of it is that you need to educate your CFO in the value of DevOps. This is exactly a situation described in “The Phoenix Project” by Gene Kim et al, but it bears repeating here. The other part is that you need to talk to your CFO about a few key topics that will be central to winning them over.
Let’s dig in.
- Generating cash (and by consequence revenue) – the lifeblood of any company, cash, is a top priority for CFOs. A strong DevOps program can tie directly to generating cash for an organization. Here are some examples of how DevOps can help in this area:
o New products come out to market quicker and more tightly aligned to customer needs. Translation: revenue comes quicker from new products because they are more on the mark.
o Products are more stable which means that there are fewer customer issues and less downtime. If the organization is subject to an SLA, there should be less money going back to customers. If they aren’t subject to an SLA, with a more stable product, customers are less likely to churn.
o Back-office systems such as billing and provisioning will have better uptime and reliability. Fewer errors means that there is less churn and more opportunities to sell happy customers more products and services.
- Reducing expenses – the other half of the equation for a CFO is how to keep costs down. DevOps can be a huge win in this area. A fundamental tenet of DevOps is automation. By automating rote tasks, your team can accomplish more. They don’t need to hire more people and/or they can take on more projects. Either way, it is a significant opportunity for IT organizations to do more with less by having resources better aligned on the most critical problems. IT organization should walk CFOs through how investments in automation can pay off.
Growth – for CFOs, it’s not just about managing the revenue and the costs, it’s also about how the company is going to grow. How can DevOps help a business grow? Growth comes from the increased sales of existing products/services and/or the introduction of new solutions. Building a better product is core to the DevOps mission. In my opinion, the definition of DevOps is actually the increased probability that you will find product/market fit. This means, if you can quickly iterate to find what customers need, you will sell more of it. By building DevOps into your organization, you will also find what customers need so you can introduce new solutions as well.
Long-term stability – CFOs tend to feel more comfortable with long-term stability solutions. Part of the mission of DevOps is to increase stability of the product and infrastructure. By turning around quick iterations, product solutions should continually be more reliable as well. If the product performs well, customers rely on it. The result? Loyal customer bases and steadier revenue streams. Another aspect of long-term stability is predictability of resources and expenses. DevOps can drive that predictability by closely tying demand for solutions to the expenses. A DevOps program can deliver on a regular cadence of product which can translate into increased visibility and stability for organizations.
The conversation with a CFO about why an organization should invest in DevOps is crucial. If IT leaders can have that conversation using a CFO’s key concerns, then the outcome is very likely to be more positive. Our suggestion is incorporate the four key concerns CFOs have – cash, expenses, growth, and stability – into the conversation.