Last month I was asked to contribute to a report being put together by a tech communications agency. The report focuses on some research conducted by the agency into the growing involvement of marketers in technology decision making. I am pretty sure anyone reading this will have come across the prediction from analyst house Gartner last year that by 2017 CMOs will have more tech spending power than CIOs. It was met with a fair amount of (understandable) scepticism, but whatever the figures there is no denying that marketers, and the business in general , are having more and more say in technology spend and when and, perhaps most importantly, who is responsible for it.
The report focuses on how (in)effective tech companies are when it comes to translating their messaging for a non-tech audience. The issue of making technology relevant to the non-techies (and despite many years in the industry I count myself as one of them) isn’t new, but the report got me thinking about how well (or not) the IT department is able to communicate what it does and the value delivered to the business, outside its own team.
There is no question that CIOs have had to get better at this - for many it was a question of survival – but I am still surprised by the weak relationships the CIO has with senior business execs and especially the rest of the CIO’s management team? It is right that CIOs should assume leadership responsibility for building the bridge between business and technology but that bridge is going to be pretty unstable unless it’s well supported.
There is no doubt that the new digital driven tech has become cool BUT there is tech and there is tech. One involves MeetUps in Shoreditch, tight trousers, beards, basements, coffee shops, Macs and beer. The other doesn’t. It involves small rooms in the back of big, bland corporate offices, workload scheduling, software updates, hardware management and layers and layers of bewildering complexity, legacy and technical debt(often used as an excuse to avoid rapid transformation). One is sexy… the other isn’t. But the fact is it could be, perhaps even should be.
An IT department is like any department in that it is staffed by people with a whole range of talents and personalities. The idea that IT departments consist of rows of machine like automatons, devoid of personality and afraid of conversation is rubbish but the fact is that most do very little to counter this perception. The departments are usually physically apart from the rest of the company – tucked out of the way like some kind of embarrassing relative. It is pretty rare that IT is included on any kind of cultural company initiative unless they have to be. Any kind of input from IT on anything other than technology is regarded with suspicion – as if working in IT means that you couldn’t possible have any value anywhere else.
In the same way as tech suppliers need to adjust their messaging for a different audience – so does the IT department. One way to do this is to create opportunities to interact with different parts of the business. If, for example, IT is looking at exploring new early stage technologies (something they all should be doing in my view!) then why not open the conversation/ workshop/ lab up to people from different parts of the business? If you want to find new ways to approach old problems ask people who are new to those problems – you might be surprised with what they come up with.
The value here is two-fold. Not only will you be demonstrating the smarts you have in your team but you will also be harnessing the smarts from elsewhere and building those bridges across the organisation. At a company level, in order to really support the business the IT department needs to understand better what it needs, what are the outcomes that need to be achieved and what it is prioritising. But on an individual level the same applies. IT is in a far better position to understand how best to support people if it has built up business empathy, knows what the business wants and how they operate.
The best way to build the brand internally is the same as it is externally, have a clear strategy, values and plan that everyone can communicate. Open yourself up, encourage engagement and the opportunity to build relationships and you will find that this is quickly reciprocated. Every CIO wants their team to be seen a critical part of the success of an organisation and for its value to be understand. That will only happen if you find new and innovative ways to demonstrate that value. There are lots of issues that are common to all departments, across all departments – creativity, product management , process, project management, people management etc., etc. so it makes sense to create a more collaborative and integrated environment in which common issues can be tackled and smart, innovative, creative thinking can be harnessed wherever it exists.