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Practical steps for communicating IT’s contributions to the business.

 Communicate IT Business Benefits

by Terry Bennett

Too many companies wonder if they are getting the best value out of what they are spending on IT.  And where there are questions about the value they are receiving, there are also doubts about their IT department’s capability to deliver.

How can you possibly help your IT department become recognized and truly appreciated for what they are bringing the company?

Historically, many businesspeople have viewed IT much like the electric company – they only think about them when something doesn’t work. Still too often, even the C-suite sees IT as a back office function somewhat akin to facilities management.  No wonder they look at IT as a cost center with no place at the table where strategic decisions are made. Such outdated views persist at many organizations despite the recognition that technology is fueling disruption throughout the business environment and the C-suite’s concern over how their company will be able to respond. 

The IT Communications Problem

According to the 2015 Power of Effective IT Communication Survey by the CIO Executive Council (CEC), over half of IT leaders see themselves as part of a cost center or service provider, and only 4% are highly satisfied with IT’s communication with the rest of the business. This survey points out the risks and costs of these sorts of order-taker relationships, including loss of credibility and low level of engagement with business partners.

Today’s CIOs acknowledge the problem, but many are struggling with how to address it.  In fact, the same CEC survey found that 89% of IT leaders report at least one significant barrier to effective communication.

How can you show the company the benefits IT is bringing, and help them to process and understand that story? The first step is to accept the inadequacy of working in silence while hoping the company understands the impact you are having.

Practical Steps to Communicate IT’s Value

  1. Express IT’s value in business terms. Most companies justify IT projects by citing anticipated revenue increases, projected throughput improvements, advances in customer satisfaction, etc.  However, many fail to track that these gains were actually achieved after the project is completed. Work with your C-suite to ensure that responsibilities are assigned for tracking and achieving the anticipated value from each project. The CFO and Internal Audit Department are often valuable allies in implementing and enforcing such a policy. The resulting metrics can be shown in dashboards to keep this type of information current and on display.

  2. Develop a marketing plan. For each stakeholder (or class of stakeholders), develop a marketing plan to include a stakeholder profile, their view of technology benefits, an understanding of the positive/negative forces affecting their attitude toward IT, and an action plan of how you will shape their perception of IT on an ongoing basis. You might consider including a question on IT communication in your user satisfaction surveys to track the success of your marketing plan.

  3. Enlist some help. In the CEC survey, half of IT leaders identified a lack of communication talent within IT as a significant barrier. A number of companies have begun hiring IT communications specialists to market the IT department internally. Another approach might be to enlist the aid of an expert in your marketing department to mentor you. Or you likely have people within your IT department who would jump at the opportunity to improve your marketing efforts.  Appoint them as a team to lead the charge. Consider kickstarting this team with a training course on marketing IT’s value.

  4. Leverage a variety of media. Confining your efforts to a monthly email report will not garner the attention you need. The need for transparency gives you plenty to talk about, and by varying the method in which the information is delivered, you attract more attention. You could use a private YouTube channel or an internal social collaboration tool. Maybe a live TV show format would work for you. Another approach might be to produce an annual report relating IT’s accomplishments in terms of how you are helping the business achieve its goals. Be sure to give plenty of credit to other areas for their efforts on various projects, and quotes from some of your business colleagues are always helpful.  And don’t forget the importance of hallway marketing. Every one of your team members is projecting an image of your department with each encounter – whether it be on the telephone, in a meeting, on an elevator, or in the parking lot.  Ensure that everyone understands the marketing message you want portrayed and how to deliver it in a positive manner.

  5. Approach it from the outside. Use of external social media can have dual benefits. While helping to build your personal brand, it can also cause others to see that you are abreast of the rapid changes technology is bringing to your industry. By writing LinkedIn posts, blogging, tweeting, and commenting on other industry blogs, you serve to educate and influence those within your company who are following you on social media. And don’t neglect the opportunity to submit your IT department for external awards. Being recognized, for example, as one of Computerworld’s Best Places to Work can cause the rest of your company to look on IT in a different light.

Marketing the great value IT is bringing helps your department to better understand how they are contributing to the bottom line which enhances employee engagement while also increasing the appreciation of IT by the rest of the company.  You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

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