Marketing IT: Sell your services internally, win more respect

It's not about hype. It's about conveying IT's value.

It's almost a cliché that the first item cut in a slow economy is training. Not for Ben Berry at the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). The frugal CIO has hired consulting firm Ouellette & Associates Inc. (O&A) to host a workshop this fall for his direct reports and IT staffers throughout the state government. The topic: marketing the value of IT.

For many IT professionals, the idea of marketing the services they provide every day might seem like a useless luxury. But Berry says marketing IT internally has never been more necessary, particularly to avoid what he calls the double-edged sword of cutting IT services to lower costs.

"If the organization cuts the IT budget with a full understanding of the value being delivered, that's one thing," Berry says. "But if they cut the budget and service levels go down, the customer is getting hit twice. So it behooves us to be able to speak to what IT does so people understand what they're doing as they make these decisions."

Even Dan Roberts, president of O&A, acknowledges that there are misunderstandings surrounding the topic of marketing IT, including a widespread association of "marketing" with "hype." But CIOs who have embraced the concept say marketing is less about glitz and more about being perceived as the partner of choice when business clients want to get something done. That's increasingly important, says Roberts, as increasingly hungry external vendors, outsourcers and consultants pitch compelling messages to top execs looking to reduce IT expenditures.

"We're in a competitive world, and clients can just as easily hire Bill and Ted's Excellent Training Adventure," says Janet Craig, a training leader in Bayer Corp.'s internal business and technology services group.

While the term "marketing" can throw IT people off, she says, it's a crucial practice for her group, which depends on billable hours from internal clients. In fact, through its marketing efforts, Craig's group has expanded its mission from supporting IT implementations to facilitating soft skills.

Then there's the flip side: Marketing can also lend perspective on what you can't do, particularly as budgets get slashed, says Ron Bonig, who recently retired as CIO at George Washington University.

While at GWU, Bonig hired a full-time marketing communications professional to help promote IT's accomplishments, such as the way it met strategic goals and fulfilled service-level agreements. But the marketing professional also helped IT convey why it wasn't able to pursue desired initiatives, particularly when IT was responding to top-level budget decisions.

Ways of marketing IT range from the formal to the informal and from the tactical to the strategic. Here are a few ideas from IT leaders who have launched marketing campaigns.

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