CXO

How to communicate IT needs to management

You're too busy managing your network to brief management about the needs and goals of the IT department, right? Think again. Communicating IT needs to management is a key prerequisite for IT success. Rick Vanover offers advice to help you do it right.


How many times have you been deadlocked with management over the direction of technology and the need to spend money on IT projects or upgrades? One way to address this problem is to get management informed—and keep it informed—about where technology is going and how it may affect the organization. In this article, I’ll give you some practical advice on communicating with management in order to keep your IT department on the right track.

Taking a look at your organization
Many organizations have slowly made IT a separate department within their organizational hierarchy. Often, IT departments report to a financial group (comptroller, CFO, etc.) or a general manager. The executives whom IT departments report to may or may not have the best understanding of what IT does.

IT is different from other departments in that executives may not always see the tangible benefits of where the money is going—but they’ll certainly notice the absence of IT spending if operations become inconsistent and productivity suffers.

This evolution of IT within an organization’s hierarchy may have created certain limitations. The people we report to may not really know what the management of technology in an organization requires. Life would be great if the CFO or comptroller of a company checked up on IT to see if it needed to include space in the budget for hardware end-of-life cycles, maintaining and updating support contracts, upgrading software platforms, or standardizing hardware platforms.

However, that’s not usually going to happen. We have to be proactive in keeping management informed of IT needs such as the ones mentioned above.

Most management personnel are aware of what other departments are doing and should be doing. For example, the general manager has a pretty good idea what marketing or sales does and what those departments need to meet their objectives within the organization. That’s not always the case with IT because IT is often fairly new as a department and its responsibilities are technical in nature. We must overcome this obstacle by a continuous stream of communication and education.

An opportunity for initiative
IT departments need to make management aware of the day-to-day affairs of the IT staff and keeping it informed of the changing trends and possibilities of the IT industry. Ways to accomplish this include getting management involved in meetings with vendors and IT planning sessions. This can keep management informed of what really goes on in IT and help it understand why we make some of the decisions we do. This can also help management in succession planning since there is generally a high turnover in IT. Figure A lists some suggestions for fostering better communications between IT and management.

Figure A


 

Management doesn’t need to be at every meeting or see everything that goes on, but select meetings and events that will allow management to see the big picture and understand why things occur the way they do will certainly help. If management can grasp some key technology concepts, it can become a partner that allows IT to do its job better. This collaboration can ultimately let IT better serve the organization itself, as well.

Some organizations, most notably IT companies, have created a new executive position, the CIO, who oversees IT operations and reports directly to the CEO or president of the organization. Organizations that have large, widespread IT departments should definitely consider changing their management structure to include a CIO. It may be worth approaching management executives about the possibility of having a CIO as part of your organization.

A scenario you may be experiencing
Let’s look at a real example of IT working with management. I can see many IT departments having a hard time convincing management that a technology such as Active Directory Services (ADS) for Windows 2000 should be implemented. From a technology standpoint, ADS for Win2K will set a framework for many next-generation software applications, such as Exchange 2000, and it will be a good platform for future implementations of enterprise applications and other distributed systems. From a business standpoint, ADS will not immediately affect the objective of the organization, although it may liberate time from system administrators to focus on more important things instead of dealing with domain trusts and network rights issues.

In the future, ADS will make network services such as e-mail, remote files, remote applications, and other resources truly beneficial to the enterprise. An organization that is Microsoft-friendly should strongly consider making Active Directory Services testing and planning for its environment a priority. Nevertheless, convincing management that effort and funds should be allocated to such a project may be difficult because it doesn’t offer a lot of immediate return on investment.

In this example, management may not need to know the details of what’s involved with moving an organization to ADS, but it would be beneficial if it understood and accepted that all future Microsoft enterprise software solutions, and thus many third-party solutions, will benefit greatly from this framework being correctly and carefully implemented. This will create a solid foundation for future IT projects and will eliminate the more daunting and costly task of having to implement ADS at the same time you deploy your next enterprise application, such as Exchange 2000.

Critical responsibility in decision making
IT management must be a good judge of technology and the needs of its organization, because, as you probably know, IT departments have made poor decisions in the past and consolidated around technologies that crashed and burned in the market.

If your organization is large enough to get access to insider or nondisclosure information from some of the larger hardware and software vendors, future planning can be solidified with some assurance of where the market is going before that information becomes entirely public. Of course, staying current with IT news, reading industry publications, and attending IT conferences can help as well.
We look forward to getting your input and hearing your experiences on this topic. Join the discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.

About Rick Vanover

Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.

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