How can business leaders and IT improve communication?

The days when companies could afford to treat IT as simply the department that keeps the computers running are long gone.

Technology delivers massive value to business leaders. Business intelligence informs long term strategy, and new applications create competitive advantage in the marketplace.

But the sad fact remains: executives perceive IT as an obstacle rather than an enabler for business. Why does this still happen, and how do we change the conversation and enable digital transformation?

The key is to connect the dots between IT and business strategy, according to Chris Scott, Founder of OSI Transformation Services. He brings a well-rounded perspective to the problem, with a background as an engineer, solutions architect, sales professional, and business owner/CEO of a technology consulting organization for the last 11 years.

“What I’ve noticed is a disconnect between leadership and IT,” he said. “A lot of that is based on the fact that the executive side tends to view IT as a roadblock.”

The value of IT

Both sides must take responsibility for bridging the communication gap.

Technology moves at light speed, so it’s critical for IT to have a seat at the table when the business is discussing strategy, Scott said. This is especially important as companies digitally transform and try to implement areas such as BI and analytics.

“In some organizations various lines of business and operations are going out on their own to find and use cloud-based apps to do their job better,” he said. “Others are stuck and don’t feel they have tools to do their job efficiently.”

It’s no wonder this situation leads to resentment and frustration, where IT staff feels that they aren’t valued within the company. “They know they are valued within the IT team. They might know their role is critical to the company by writing applications or supporting the network,” Scott said. “But strategically, at the end of the day they aren’t looked at that way by management.”

And what happens when IT does reach out to offer input into ways to improve productivity, efficiency, or effectiveness? No one listens. Or, no one understands.

“They may have a really cool suggestion or idea, but it doesn’t always get the attention that it could if it was articulated more clearly in terms of the outcome of what’s being proposed,” he said.
“It gets shot down and IT gets frustrated. They are trying to make a difference, but leadership doesn’t listen.”

Technologists may undermine their own cause, by focusing on technical terminology and jargon that creates communication barriers and prevents true connections with business leaders.

“To their IT peers, it’s everyday talk. It’s how they communicate. They are using the same language,” Scott said. “Unfortunately, acronyms and tech buzzwords simply don’t convey any meaning to most executives. They want to know specifically how what IT is doing will impact the bottom line.”

Focus on what really matters

IT will only gain a seat at the table when technologists learn to speak the language of leadership, Scott said. Many business leaders believe the role of operations is to produce and deliver products or services and report on that to senior management, and IT’s role is to simply support and enable operations within the business. To change that narrative, IT must connect what they do to what is important to senior management: KPIs, visibility, business intelligence, and analytics to make data-driven business decisions.

Scott offers a list of leadership priorities that IT teams should keep in mind if they want to be heard within their organization:

  • Customer demand, loyalty, and satisfaction
  • Go-to-market strategy
  • Improvement in product/service offerings to remain relevant
  • Innovation to gain a competitive advantage
  • Good stewardship of financial decisions
  • Following the core values and mission of the organization

In short, consider customer and business value when proposing new technology purchases or projects. “If IT thought about things in that light, and they changed their conversation to make it more relevant to the business and what the outcome could be, I think those barriers would start to come down,” Scott said.

Having a new conversation about digital transformation

For starters, business leaders must take the initiative to start these conversations internally with IT rather than rely primarily on peers, competitors and outside experts for strategic input, according to Scott. They also need to stop jumping from one trend to the next. When executives call for a complete change of direction as IT is midway through a project , this creates an enormous waste of resources. Even worse, it discourages IT teams that really want to see projects through to a successful outcome.

At the same time, IT can’t expect business leaders to spend years learning the ins and outs of tech-speak, he said. Transformation ideally begins when IT directly correlates initiatives, such as process automation and data-driven decision-making, to the objectives that business leaders want to accomplish. When IT is part of the strategic conversation from the start, they can also plan and budget appropriately to meet these high-level business objectives.

As this happens, IT can finally be viewed as an ally and a valued asset in the organization, helping business leaders accelerate the transformation required to be sustainable, productive and effective in the future.

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