IT professionals are a smart and creative group who use the latest technologies to solve difficult problems. While IT pros "talk tech" fluently with most peers, IT communication often breaks down when explaining the value of services or initiatives to the business side. Effective communication makes a real difference in getting support -- and funding -- for new IT projects.
What's the big deal about the communication breakdown? The underlying problem isn't with IT staff skill levels or business leaders' knowledge; it's that each side has a different set of concerns, said Gartner's research director Robert Naegle, who spoke at the analyst firm's IT Infrastructure and Operations Management Summit 2014 in Orlando, Florida.
IT thinks in terms of connectivity, security, hardware, software, and other infrastructure and operations topics. Corporate executives, on the other hand, think in terms of effect on revenue, cost reduction and risk mitigation.
Two distinctly different perspectives can lead to misunderstandings and lost opportunities. Virtualization initiatives are a good example: While IT is excited for the consolidation, streamlined provisioning and other capabilities, these IT values mean nothing to the business side. Instead, virtualization's ability to reduce costs and increase customers (end users) is meaningful to the business side. Similarly, deploying an enterprise resource planning system or expanding IT has little direct tangible business effect, but the prospect of improving processes or supporting growth to new regions, offices, sales staff and so on, resonates with executives. Data center teams must map IT services by business value, which is easier said than done.
What's in 'IT' for me?
Rather than think in terms of cables, servers, switches, systems, settings, software, connectivity and other technological things, IT teams must think about services, or how those "things" benefit the business. IT can bridge this divide successfully by reverse-engineering the traditional approach to rationalize an IT project, Naegle said.
Start by identifying customers and understanding their needs. Study the habits of the most successful and productive business users to understand the way they work, the applications they use and the resources they require, for example.
Next, identify the customer's expectations of IT. Do they expect IT efficiency through low costs or high return on investment? If reliability is critical, IT efforts may require quality of service or adherence to service-level agreements. When value is the expectation, customers want business or process improvements. A major transformation may mean you need to support new business models. Ferret out expectations based on your organization and industry.
And finally, only after you know your customers and their expectations, express services that demonstrate value to the business. In many cases, that is revenue, cost reduction and risk mitigation.
This was first published in June 2014