Being in a technical field like IT, we often see disconnects between the “techies” and the business people—almost like they are speaking foreign languages at each other. The result is that the techies don’t really understand the business requirements and the business people don’t understand the technical solutions. It’s sort of comical to watch, if not for being so sad in terms of the huge number of failed IT projects that result.
One thing we’ve realized is that we need to be able to communicate and communicate well between the business and IT or else we are not going to be very effective at IT service provision and enabling the business to perform at its best.
One solution has been to have IT staff whose job it is to translate between the business and IT units—these people are in roles at times called “business liaisons” or IT-business relationship managers. It is helpful to assign these liaisons to each business unit and give them authority and accountability for managing and nurturing a healthy relationship and unambiguous communication between business units and IT providers. The liaisons “own the customer” and ensure that requirements are captured correctly and understood by IT, that the proposed IT solutions are clearly explained to the business, and that the customer is satisfied with the systems and services they are receiving.
A second solution is hire IT communications specialists who more broadly “market” and communicate IT plans, policies, processes, goals, objectives, initiatives, milestones, and performance. I have found these professionals to be indispensable to “getting the message out there” and enhancing awareness and understanding for IT in the organization. Of course, IT leaders play a critical role in developing and honing the actual message, and in delivering ongoing two-way communications throughout the organization. In essence, they are the ambassadors and communicators par excellence inside and outside the organization with all IT stakeholders.
In short, IT needs to communicate early and often and communicate, communicate, communicate.
ComputerWorld, August 31-September 7, 2009 has a wonderful article affirming the criticality of IT communications in an article entitled: “Marketing IT: An Inside Job” by Mary Brandel.
As Brandel states: “It’s not about hype. It’s about conveying IT’s value.” I would add that it’s not only about conveying IT’s value, but also about creating IT value, by improving the two-way communication between the business and IT and thereby generating more effective solutions.
The article provides a number of useful suggestions for marketing and communicating IT that I’ve adapted, such as customer satisfaction surveys; IT annual reports that communicates accomplishments, alignment to strategic plan, “resources saved, awards won, and conferences at which staff members have spoken;” e-Brochures with “video coverage explaining goals,” services, policies, and plans; and Twitter alerts on service outages.
The key though which Bandel points out is that IT leaders need to “embed a 24/7 marketing mindset throughout the [IT] organization.” While business liaisons and IT communications specialists are focused on and specialize in this, it is still imperative for everyone in the IT organization to understand and be able to market and communicate IT services and processes to customers. All IT personnel are representatives to the business and should present and represent that customer service is our #1 goal.
From my perspective, this means transitioning our IT organizations to be wholly user-centric. This means a clear and ever present awareness that the business is IT’s raison d’être.