Elevating the conversation: How to better communicate with business

Fresh year. Fresh thinking. Fresh positioning?

A new year is an opportunity to reflect. For me, how IT positions itself within the business is top of mind.  How are we communicating our value to the rest of the organization?  While we’ll always have to address delivery challenges, IT won’t be considered partners and peers with business if we focus our dialog solely on tactical issues or technical difficulties.

Instead, the discussion needs to be framed in terms of our strategic business value and how we are growing it. Here are my plans going forward, and some other ideas to help you form a communication plan of your own.

A 2014 goal: Implementing a truly strategic communications plan. These topics currently resonate for inclusion in our division’s approach:

  • IT strategy. We are in the process of doing a business and IT strategy refresh
  • Forward looking views of technology and how it can provide competitive advantage
  • IT talent development. For example, our new Marketing and IT peer mentoring program pilot
  • State of the union operational and financial health. We have multiple IT process improvement projects going on, plus an emphasis on adding muscle to our IT financial management capabilities

In our case, a large ERP implementation (Oracle) has dominated much of our board level conversations of late. The dialog has been tactically focused, reflecting milestones made and issues resolved. In retrospect, while this was what the board wanted, it was a missed opportunity to communicate the much broader business value that we drive, and demonstrate that IT leaders are business leaders.

Additionally, IT could use a little self-marketing.  Our value is irreplaceable, but we’re either reluctant to communicate it or think it is so obvious that we shouldn’t have to. 

Not a smart move, but it is a fixable one.

This list works for us, but how do you decide where to start? What are others doing?

Take a look at Intel’s IT annual report, which has some excellent lessons to be learned.  For example, it:

  • Demonstrates how they connect with customers and employees via social computing
  • Ties their value to the business by highlighting metrics such as increased time to market, reduced risk and improved supply chain numbers
  • Highlights internal service improvements like reductions in incident resolution time and faster processing of PC service requests while decreasing staff

All showcased with outstanding, easy to grasp graphics that support their branding. 

If strategic communications are the goal, then why not think top down?  What topics are most IT organizations discussing with the board? 

According to a McKinsey survey (Elevating Technology on the Boardroom Agenda), current technology or IT related issues addressed by the Board include:

  • IT strategy
  • Forward looking views of technology’s impact on the company’s industry
  • Approval/review of very large IT projects
  • Yearly discussion on how IT enables broader business strategy
  • Security and risk related issues
  • IT talent, succession and mentoring

Gartner Group, in Working With the Board of Directors, has their own list of common board-CIO subjects:

  • Financial approval for large IT initiatives
  • Update on IT enterprise strategy
  • Update on IT enterprise performance
  • M&A and divestitures
  • Major program milestone missed
  • Security or data privacy break

All are both short and long term business and technology matters.

These topics could position IT as business savvy, focused and enabling. Board members and the business want to understand the business impact of what we do without the geek talk, and these topics can be a platform to do so.  We can demonstrate our business value, our understanding that things urgently need to change, and how we’re going to change them.

And, considering how much we have successfully done and have planned, an overarching message of momentum is a fit. This is a strong, positive word connoting progress and urgency, which absolutely rings true.

Fresh thinking for us.

The plan is still under construction.  More work to be done on our end to determine what is appropriate, but it will be well worth the effort.

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