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Proposal to Report – the Art of Business Writing
31 July 2014

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Propose, Persuade, Promote

These three “Ps” are the reason reports, briefs, white papers, proposals are written, otherwise why bother.

So when we set out to propose, persuade others our proposal is sound and promote the benefits of our proposal, it should be done effectively.  Failure to do so could be costly to the organisation and how you are perceived.

Establish your goal, what is the focus, why are you writing the document?

Recommendations should be stated up front and wherever possible include an alternative or alternatives with the reasons for and against them.  This shows you have given the issue due consideration – you have done your homework.

Know your audience, whether it is one recipient or a hundred – one recipient can often be more crucial, with larger numbers you could have a majority group who could persuade the minority.

Get straight to the point.  The opening paragraph must establish the reason for the document but keep it short.

Sell your idea by using persuasive language but don’t overdo it, the pitch should be subtle.

Business documents should not be written in the first person, they are not personal and personal feelings should be removed from the content.

As always, don’t use jargon or informal expressions and always explain technical terms, unless you are absolutely sure everyone reading the document will understand them.

A lengthy document should also be broken down into subsections with a clearly understood header. This not only makes the document easier to read but for someone doing an initial scan they should have an understanding of the content.

Documents of all lengths will benefit from the use of tables, charts and graphs – particularly when there are a lot of figures involved and colour enhances the experience. Most of us are visual beings and the numerically blessed are in the minority.

Use short sentences.  They are more to the point and easier to comprehend.  With a sentence the length of a paragraph it is all too easy to lose the thread and then you have to start it all over again or give up and move on.  Neither are good outcomes.

According to Richard Nordquist a grammar and composition expert there are also the “four Cs” – clear, concise, considerate, and correct.  Always make sure of the last “C”!  Clear, concise content eliminates waffle and considering your audience, looking at the document from the reader’s point of view will often result in a rewrite.

In the end, if your document is long, provide an executive summary.  State the issue, provide the solution and the benefits.  For those who don’t need to know all the details, they will be truly grateful.

Cloud Computing and the Changing Role of the CIO
9 July 2014

 The CIO in the Cloud

In a just published report by the McKinsey Global Institute, “Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy,” cloud is listed as one of 12 technologies with significant potential to drive economic impact and disruption by 2025.

The report said “the cloud is enabling the explosive growth of Internet based services from searching to streaming media to offline storage of personal data, as well as background processing capabilities which enable mobile devices to do things like respond to commands and ask for directions”.

The cloud also improves the economics of IT and provides greater flexibility and responsiveness.  The cloud can also facilitate new business models, such as catering for a much more mobile workforce.

Irving Wladawsky-Berger writing for the Wall Street Journal remembers attending a CIO Symposium at MIT in 2009 which was “all about the cloud” when the cloud was still a new concept CIO’s were getting their heads around.  Four years later Ron Miller attended a similar conference at MIT and discovered “IT dinosaurs in Cambridge”.  In a subsequent article Miller said “I didn’t expect IT pros at an MIT conference to have such old-fashioned notions of cloud computing”.  He thought a technology conference at MIT would be full of cutting edge and cool discussions but in one instance during a session on evolving cloud agenda, he saw a lot of regression instead.  He heard IT executives dismiss cloud with tired old arguments, ones he thought we were long past.  This is a risky position for a CIO to be in.

On the flip side many CIOs are in the cloud, not necessarily on cloud nine as the cloud is presenting tough challenges along with the benefits, such as duplication of services, creation of data silos which are difficult to make available to enterprise-wide applications and legal issues with regard to the security of enterprise data.

The cloud can provide a decrease in IT costs and an increase in efficiency and opportunities to for business growth and the CIO is qualified and in a prime position to lead the cloud strategy due to their knowledge of technology.  The CIO must however, be able to effectively communicate the positives and negatives of cloud computing to the C-suite.

Technology analyst Eric Lindquist described the profile of the CIO – “The CIO is also a security expert, as well as a department-to-department ambassador, and is always ready to listen to even the most out there technology idea. The CIO knows more about business than the CEO and more about digital marketing than the CMO, and takes the lead in retraining the current IT staff and nurturing the kid in the mailroom, who is the social network wizard. And, oh yeah, the email system never goes down, the data is always real time, and the data center is all virtualized.”

“If all that sounds like a tall order, it is. But it is the profile that most resembles the CIO, which emerged from the 10th Annual MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. After sitting through keynotes and panels . . . I was left with the image of the current CIO role as an increasingly powerful and maybe an increasingly impossible job.”

The Right Way to Write Business Documents
2 July 2014

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The right way to write.

Even though we live in an increasingly digital visual age, writing is still a required skill.  Although most of us have left the quill, pen and typewriter behind for the keypad, we still “write”, probably more than we have ever done.

We write emails every day and make no mistake these are business documents.  Anything you write in the course of your business day is a business document, even those notes hastily jotted own, if necessary they are submissible as forensic evidence. So, it is essential your business communications are done properly and well thought out.

First think about the audience, who are they, what will they expect, how much do they know about the content, why are you writing this?  It will focus your message on what is important and the tone of the communication.

Don’t be verbose, it is boring and your intended audience will switch off.  KISS – keep it short (and) sweet.

Don’t use jargon or acronyms and if it is impossible not to, explain them.

OK you’re ready to write, so just write, put all your thoughts down, don’t edit yourself at this point, dot points are good.  This enables you to quickly put anything you are thinking on to the page.  Do this for ten minutes, get up and walk away, well at least do something else.

While much can be written about grammar, whole books have been written on the subject, one thing is important to remember – use “active voice”.  What does it mean?  It is a short, direct way to write a sentence as opposed to waffle, for example –

The mat was sat on by the cat, or the cat sat on the mat.

It is obvious which is passive and which is active.

When you come back to edit the first draft, look for passive sentences and turn them around.  Look for words repeated too often in a sentence or paragraph – “that” is one word which is overworked and often unnecessary.  Get rid of the extras.

If possible have someone else read your document before it is sent, presented or published, before your intended audience sees the final version.  A second opinion is valuable.

If appropriate, end with a call to action, give your audience something to do with the information you have just given them.

If it is still too hard – outsource!