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 Do you say "We simply have to replace our old, outdated router.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.
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 with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.