Networking

The Power of Perception

In some places, IT still has a perception problem, but this problem can be overcome to the benefit of the business.

IT still has a perception problem.  In some organizations, we continue to be seen as geeks that play with expensive toys.  Sure, these toys power the business, but their necessity is often not indicated in a way that's "business friendly."

Reality and perception are very different animals.  Well-chosen words and a positive demeanor are keys to successful requests and professional interactions with the rest of the business.  Although IT continues to gain ground in visibility and potential impact, much of what we do is, and probably always will be, behind the scenes work that no one really understands, nor do they want to understand it, nor do they need to.  Like the folks that maintain your office, a lot of people consider the behind-the-scenes work that IT performs as "electronic maintenance."  These are critical tasks that need to be done, but the CEO isn't going to stop by each morning complimenting the team on doing a great job changing last night's tapes.  Quite honestly, if your CEO actually does do this, he or she may need a little more work!

Rightly or wrongly, some IT organizations have managed to move into the "PITA" category for some executives.  That's not to say that these executives don't understand the value wrought by IT, but they have begun to tire of hearing the same story over and over again told in the same way.  These executives may feel that IT has enough resources to do its job and they don't understand why they keep complaining about small budgets and small staffs.

Why does this happen?  First, look inward.  When you make a pitch to the executive team for a new initiative, how do you approach the task?  Do you say "We simply have to replace our old, outdated router.  It keeps acting up.  The new router supports IPv6 and has GigE ports, so we'll never run out of addresses and stuff will be faster than with the old router, which is no longer supported" or do you say "Our existing router, which is the lynchpin for our connection to the Internet, is no longer supported by the manufacturer.  If it fails, there is the potential for an extended outage, which would cost the organization $XXX per hour until the unit is repaired.  From a risk perspective, a new router would pay for itself after only xxx hours of downtime."

I'd argue that the second approach will get you closer to your goal and possible kudos from senior management for being proactive in the face of possible failure.  You'll be seen as understanding the business rather than wanting a new toy, even though the result would be the same from a technical perspective.  The second approach gives executive management some meat, too.  They get to make a decision based on some real information that they can sink their teeth into.  Sure, you could still get shot down, but bear in mind that most organizations have priorities beyond IT needs that must also be addressed and your executive management team may feel that the loss of the router is an acceptable risk for the time being.

When you really think about it, most departments in an organization have thankless jobs that no one thinks about until something goes wrong.  Just as you expect your paycheck on time every month, the marketing department has the perfectly reasonable expectation that their database will be well maintained, kept current and kept available.  In fact, these folks probably want all of this without having to ask for it.  After all, it's IT's job to be proactive in keeping these things in working order, and they probably won't bring you a gift from the Keebler elves every time you apply a patch that keeps their data secure.

The takeaway: Even though the tales of woe are sure to make any IT professional cringe, people outside IT just don't care about them.  They know that something is broken and it needs to be fixed... and now.  Understanding this fact and eliminating the complaining within earshot of non-IT staff is critical to maintaining a professional organization.  Likewise, understanding how to pitch IT needs in a way that make sense for the business is critical to the CIO's success.

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

12 comments
metalpro2005
metalpro2005

Do not forget that most IT PROs (and especially IT PROs in management roles) need to be the linking pin between management (high BUSINESS abstract) to problem solving specialist (high TECHNICAL abstract). And what makes things complicated, the IT PRO needs to make the transition from high BUSINESS abstract to low BUSINESS abstract and from high TECHNICAL abstract to low TECHNICAL abstract in order to do his job ! It takes a lot of energy and dedication to know what is going on the different levels. I think this is the main reason why the job is though and in the end communication skills suffer. Summary: Most managers can simply do their job by keeping focussed on one level (the business) ; CIO and IT managers in general, if they like it or not, needs to have focus on two.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Are there really people out there who have jobs and don't know this? Why? Your router example is like business 101. How about how to get the business management on board. For say Spares. DR Contingency Refactoring Encouraging staff retention..... Something somebody with an IQ in 30s couldn't figure out.

brandon.kindle
brandon.kindle

Sometimes it's the simple things we forget about in day to day operations, ever worked on a problem forever and then later found it was a simple typo or ??? Same can happen in thought process and conversation, sometimes it's easy to skip over the idea that it all boils down to dollars and just mention the 'IT' items that high-techs find valuable.

catfish182
catfish182

It is true that this seems like something you should have encountered within 6 months of your first job but you never know. The last person that was in charge of the department here encountered that daily but never said anything so the perception was that he was not asking or he didnt try very hard. Posts like this would make people maybe understand what the CIO has to deal with and perhaps allow staff members to support the CIO better.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

What I'd like to see is a CxO who supported their staff better, or at all in some cases. This sort of thing might not hurt, but if helps more than a minute fraction, symptoms as opposed to root problems are being addressed, and that is the fault of the people in charge.

clellandm
clellandm

And what does PITA stand for?

cvoss
cvoss

Pain In The A**

hemal_sanghvi
hemal_sanghvi

I have successfully used four parameters - risk, cost, quality & duration, when talking to business. In addition, what it entails to the customer as well as the organization definetly helps the argument.

TooOldToRemember
TooOldToRemember

is how many of the projects we propose are presented. As in the first example in the article - if the request is denied and the router crashed the repercussions would not only be for the downtime but also include the failure to present the associated business risks to management. As IT management we can bring ourselves closer to a seat at the table when we consistently demonstrate attention to the overall business from our unique viewpoint.

nallentech
nallentech

There is also the question of credibility. Its all very well explaining how the sky will fall in if we dont spend ??50k but if teh business genuinly dont see how IT adds value or how critical aspects of it are, they're likely to think you're over egging the pudding to get funding. Genuine IT respresentation at Board level and Business understanding of IT is as essential as IT understanding of Business

angel.trujillo
angel.trujillo

The way you present your business cases for any upgrade or replacement will make the difference on a "yes" or "no" when the business is involved within the final decision. We may write marvelous things about technology, but the business will matter on business continuity and the different risks that not doing the IT upgrade may represent to them.

reisen55
reisen55

Outsourcing. I have read many business publications as to how integrating information technology with a company's business goals and procedures is of substantial benefit. In my own career now as an independent consultant, I align my tasks with my customer's businesses and they derive proper benefit. But I am a small fish here. In larger organizations, such as one I was outsourced out of in 2005, IT is viewed as an expense category, nothing more, as a budget item to be cut. Worse, salary and health care benefits for American workers look fantastically high when compared, by the outsourcing firms such as Computer Sciences Corp, to those in distant India. Lynn Blodgett of ACS has said, in fact, that those economies are too great to be ignored. IT in the view of American management is an expense item pure and simple. Enlightened views are few and far between and certainly W. Edwards Deming would endorse IT as being an integrated part of your business. He would be appalled at management for shareholder value and expense control ONLY at the cost of so much more that is lost by outsourcing to third world areas. Read Deming by the way - fascinating fellow. Until American management sees the folly of this view, and pays the high price of poor quality work performed half a world away, they will continue to see IT as an expense only and of no other value.