It’s the monthly C-level
meeting. The CEO is seated at the head of the table. Next to him on the right
is the CFO, and on his left is the CMO. Also in the room
are the Sr.VP of Sales, Sr.VP
of Operations, Sr.VP of HR, the Comptroller, the Sr.VP of Product Development, legal council, and you, the
CIO.

Each person in turn
provides a report, followed by a healthy banter among
colleagues. The CEO is asking questions and seeking advice from each person. Then
it’s your turn. You give your report. Silence. You
wonder, did they understand what I said? Why no
questions? Do they get it?

You think, I know I am
as smart as any of them, I went to an equally good school as any of them. Why
don’t they engage me? Why don’t they seek my counsel? Isn’t technology supposed
to drive the future of the company?

The truth is, you are as
smart as any of them, you did go to an equally good school, and guess what?
It’s not your communication skills that are at fault. In fact, the reason you are in the room in
the first place is because you either have excellent communication skills,
excellent managerial skills, or both. It is these skills that set you apart
from all managerial staff in the IT department, and it is these skills that set
you apart from all of the people you competed with for your position. I have
never met an accomplished CIO at a large institution who holds that position
because of his or her technology skills. So why, then, do you feel you are not
being consulted on strategic corporate issues?

Is it possible that it is the
internal perception of the entire IT staff that is holding you back? Think about it: When
you hired your staff members, you were interested in their experience, technology
skills, managerial ability, and that they could get the job done.

But were you interested
in their ability to perform as an internal consultative resource for their
users?

A couple of years ago I
received a call from a CIO for a major healthcare firm in the Midwest. She
said, “I’ve been here two weeks, it’s clear that no one likes or respects my
staff, and all I have heard in the boardroom is, ‘I’m glad you’re here because
your department is a mess. Good luck.” She asked me if I could apply my
marketing skills internally to help alter the perception of IT within the
corporation. I told her I could, but we needed to determine if, in fact, the
perception was a reality. And if it was, we needed to fix the problems. She
agreed.

We took a traditional marketing approach to solving the
problem. We began with qualitative research (focus groups and one-on-one
interviews), then quantitative research (a survey of 871 supervisors, managers,
directors, vice-presidents, and senior vice-presidents who came in contact with
the IT department).

Our objectives were to (1)
determine a level of satisfaction with IT products and services from its user
base, (2) identify key drivers of customer satisfaction so IT could prioritize
improvement actions, and (3) analyze the data at levels that would provide IT
personnel with areas on which to focus their efforts. The results of the research were most
interesting: about one-third of those surveyed were dissatisfied with IT products and
services; one-third were satisfied; and one-third were ambivalent.
The IT organization was given strong ratings in technical skills and the
dedication of its employees. Areas of improvement included flexibility in
handling changing user needs and establishing partnerships with their
users so that IT could be more aware of specific departmental needs and could
work together as teams. But the most striking finding from the research was
that while technical expertise was important, the most important factors of
satisfaction are non-technical in nature. The three most important issues were:

  • Being
    proactive and future-oriented (anticipating needs)
  • Working
    together as partners
  • Serving
    as an internal information systems consultant that provides the best
    answers for application

In essence, the users said they wanted IT to provide their technical strengths in a more
collaborative and customer-focused manner. In fact, 71 percent said IT should be more
involved with its organization and 60 percent said they could serve their external
paying customers better with more IT involvement. Clearly, the internal
customers realized that they needed IT. The importance of the internal
customers’ need for this service-oriented approach proved itself at the end of
the survey when the users were asked to provide an overall satisfaction
rating for IT, and 65 percent said they were less than satisfied. There was definitely room for improvement.

We delivered the research
results at the annual IT management meeting, sensitive to the fact that
the average tenure for managers was 15 years, and we were about to tell them
that 65 percent of their users were dissatisfied with IT. We tried to make it
a positive experience, outlining the areas that needed improvement. We informed
them that we (the CIO and consultants) were there to provide them with tools and
direction on turning the situation around; that we would be delivering specific
programs designed to address the areas that needed improvement; that we would
be fielding the survey the following year; and that we had high expectations
of realizing great improvements. And that did, in fact,
occur. One year later, user satisfaction improved 43 percent. Eight of 11 divisional
customers showed increases in overall satisfaction.

After careful analysis of
the research, we knew we needed to change the way IT viewed itself within the
context of the enterprise. Moreover, we needed to improve their communication
skills. It’s interesting to note that, in our research, we found that when IT
people were asked who they worked for, the vast majority responded “IT.” When
we asked the same question of the health-plan business managers, they
said they worked for the health plan. This is a telling distinction as to the
differences between the two groups. The research revealed some
of the perceptions and realities that needed to be overcome, including:

  • IT personnel tend to speak “techno-babble” to us.
  • IT personnel hold their cards close to the vest;
    they don’t share information we need to know.
  • IT doesn’t understand the business we are in.
  • Users don’t know what the IT people do, or
    what they have accomplished by the end of the day, the week, the month, or the
    year.
  • IT is a mystery.
  • IT lacks knowledge of business objectives and
    strategies.
  • IT only has contact with users when the
    user requests a program and when it is delivered.
  • IT is too slow; they
    are not a partner in performance, but a deterrent to it.

Tips to improve user satisfaction with IT

The following are the
programs we recommended and that were implemented:

An overarching account service system

This
system would be designed to allow business contact with technical / service
personnel as opposed to staff IT personnel. These individuals “worked for” IT
but were “dedicated” to internal business departments within the enterprise.
This provided a consultative professional with developing knowledge of the
issues affecting specific business units that interfaced directly with the
users.

Enterprise-wide communication strategy for new product launches

Prior to the internal
rollout of an enterprise-wide new product or service, we required a comprehensive
communication plan. The communication continuum stretched from project
announcement to completion.

Creation of a quarterly IT newsletter

This was written in
layman’s language and distributed to the entire corporation. Each issue
contained stories about various programs and new projects in the works. The
most important component of each newsletter was a “projects at a glance” section
that detailed the status of all major projects. It contained the following
headings for each project:

  • Name of project
  • Benefit to customer
  • Status
  • Next steps
  • Completion date

Technology awareness sessions

These sessions targeted senior-level management and corporate officers. In these sessions, the
CIO focused on new technologies that were on the horizon and how those technologies
might benefit the corporation.

Brown bag lunch sessions

These were designed to
promote intradepartmental communications as well as to demonstrate the
knowledge and awareness of IT management as to “technology and the consumer.”
Each session focused on consumer technology issues, i.e., cell phones,
wireless, laptops, PCs, etc.

Year-end review

Each year the IT department
would publish a brochure that “celebrated the successes” of the IT organization.
This piece was distributed to all employees and was a source of education as to
what was accomplished. It also became a source of pride for the IT
organization.

Open houses

Designed
to bring out the human side of the IT organization, customers were invited to
the IT department as a means of removing the mystery of technology. IT staff
conducted the tours.

Wall of Fame

Wall posters were
displayed within the IT department and featured IT success stories.

Changing the perception of IT

IT must be viewed
internally as a positive asset. This occurs when the IT staff views itself as a
member of the enterprise and not only as a member of the IT department. IT must learn to
become customer-centric. To accomplish this requires a change of mind set. The
development of consultative skills and improved communication abilities will
be noticed quickly and appreciated throughout the enterprise. These behavior
changes will result in improved levels of internal customer satisfaction. As
the internal image of the department changes for the positive, the CIO will
become the ultimate beneficiary. This first step will go far in earning the CIO
an equal seat among his or her peers.

Jack Loewy is president of Jack B Loewy Marketing Consultants,
and provides both internal and external marketing communication services. He
serves the IT industry with programs designed to improve internal
communications as well as resolve morale problems. Mr. Loewy can be reached at
502.228.8933 or at jbloewy@jackloewy.com Visit his website at www.jackloewy.com to learn more about his
company and review other case studies.