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Empower 8 min

Until 2019, Dean was Head of Uber Compute, overseeing Metal as a Service, technical infrastructure and business functions serving Uber’s global business. Prior to that, Dean was VP of Global Foundation Services at eBay Inc, serving over 300 million active users. He is now the Founder and Chairman of the Infrastructure Masons, an association that gathers and support leading digital engineers globally. Dean Nelson will deliver a keynote at ADAPT’s 8th annual Connected Cloud & DC Edge this March.  

He shared with ADAPT’s CEO Jim Berry how CIOs can best communicate the value of technology to the executive board.


Jim Berry:

This is Jim Berry from ADAPT. I’m here interviewing Dean Nelson who was the former head of global infrastructure at Uber metal and foundation services at eBay. And a strategic advisor now at Dean Nelson Inc and a legend in the industry.

ADAPT are proudly flying Dean into Australia this year to keynote at our CCDC 2020 event. But we also have a big CIO community that we work with at ADAPT here Dean, most of the leaders from enterprise and government. One of the key challenges they’re dealing with, and I know it’s a topic close to your heart is how do you translate technology to value? And the struggle of positioning into business language and changing a cost or an overhead conversation into a business enablement conversation? I wondered if you had some tips or advice from your career around this sort of taxonomy?

Dean Nelson:

I know that a lot of CIOs have faced this challenge and as many have solved it when it comes down to being able to talk at the C-level or with the board about changing it from overhead into a business relationship. And what I’ve found is that we all speak different languages. And if you’re talking about the CIO, much of the time it’s about the tech and the things that are needed. And a lot of times we talk to the CFO or the CEO, but they don’t care about the tech, they care about the results. “Tell me what I’m investing in, why am I investing in it?” And that’s the translation that has to happen. So, what I’ve found, this worked really well for me is a taxonomy.

A taxonomy is pretty simple, it’s a structure.  I need to know: Where do I spend my money on what? How effectively? And what am I getting for that investment? And so, the taxonomy is a bit of heavy lifting. The key is can you go back and really know across on-prem, cloud, hybrid, people, right? Everything that you spend on; without double counting, without missing elements of it. And being able to do that in a standardised way. If you can roll that back up in a real-time kind of dashboard view then you can say: this is what our investments are, here’s where we are, this is what we spent on and this is what is enabling the business. But you have to have that foundation to even have that conversation. Because you have to walk in with the numbers that are just, are set.

Without it, you are walking in and speculating: “Will we spend this much here”, right? And then you’re going to get the same answer and then go cut it. Here’s your goal for the year to drop it by 15%. Instead of: “what are you investing in and what return are we getting?”

Let me give an example. Bob Swan was the CFO at eBay and he’s now the CEO over at Intel, and he gave me a compliment that I will never forget.

When I was in there at eBay, he said, “When you first came in, I kept asking, why do you need this money? And now when you come in, I ask, how much money do you need?” Now that is a huge transformational conversation.

Because he said, you make the complex simple, you put it in my language and I can understand what it is you want to do, what the investment is, and from there I can make a decision on it.”

What I see is the underlying infrastructure is not overhead, it’s enabling the business to move faster, to smarter increased margins. And increase the capability of the eBay platform. So, it starts with the taxonomy and getting tools.

There are things like Apptio and Cloudability and all these that have the ability to look in and leverage the taxonomy. And by the way, there’s a group called the TBM Council, Technology Business Management Council. That is another professional association that is all about this system of record and managing IT like a business.

Jim Berry:

We were proud enough to host their event in Australia. We helped introduce some of their policies and thoughts to the CIOs we work with. They’re a good group. Another good NFP.

Dean Nelson:

I’ve been working with them since the inception and I was honoured to be in the first chapter of the TBM book, which was really fun. Talking about a lot of these concepts and I really believe in it and people find this not sexy. But I’ll tell you what, when you could walk in and change a C-level conversation like that, that’s pretty damn sexy.

Jim Berry:

So, ADAPT are proudly working with a lot of CIOs and we have trusted connections. They tell us what they think, and they’ve been asked to do more with less, more with less, more with less… And when it comes to having the resources they need to even start looking at some of the emerging technologies or organising their data to enable automation and everything else,  the challenge is that conversation when it comes to financing – to get better budgets, I think that’s critical to their success.

Dean Nelson:

Exactly – are you an overhead? Or are you a business enabler? How did you become an enabler?

Jim Berry:

And a strategic enabler rather than just an IT service provider. Okay Dean, well I appreciate it. I think you need to plug your Tesla in from what I heard. We’ve reached the end of our time. Looking forward to flying you in and hosting you in March and bringing your thought leadership to our Aussie community out here.

Dean Nelson:

I’m definitely looking forward to being down under and seeing the Gold Coast for the first time.


At Connected Cloud & DC Edge in March, Infrastructure Masons’ Dean Nelson will fly out to Australia to deliver his keynote “Are you ready for ruggedized and secure Edge?” He will share how Edge will dwarf core data centre capacity in the next 5 years and security threat vectors will grow 1000x.

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