Consumerisation and social media have helped change internal perceptions about the IT department but some concerns persist

Consumerisation and social media have helped change internal perceptions about the IT department but concerns persistPhoto: Shutterstock

How can IT leaders overcome entrenched views of technology and create the type of communication that boosts the perception of the IT department within the company? Mark Samuels reports.

Technology is still often seen by other business executives as a service, rather than a business essential. At the same time, ever-increasing consumerisation means workers across the organisation now have clear views on how they think internal IT should operate. silicon.com spoke to five IT leaders to get their take on how CIOs can help change perceptions.

1. Become the champion for innovation

Comic Relief CIO Marcus East says perception has long been a challenge for IT functions and departments. It’s a challenge that has increased in recent years, with employees eager to understand why they cannot do things in the office that they can do at home with consumer IT.

“Arguments about the need for corporate security used to be enough to stop non-compliant users in their tracks, but that approach won’t work anymore. IT leaders need to address this issue and become the champions for people’s use of technology in their organisations, rather than trying to resist innovation,” says East.

Internal perceptions of IT can only improve when the function is recognised as an expert resource and the driver of innovation, says East. That transition is not necessarily easy to complete and CIOs must work to ensure that team workers understand internal customer demands.

“It requires different skills in both the leader of the function and across the department, and a much more customer service oriented approach,” says East. “Here, the aim is to work out how something can be made possible instead of saying something cannot happen. Only with that change can perceptions improve.”

2. Invest in your IT talent

IT has a bad reputation. Rather than being seen as human and approachable, technology is regularly viewed as a dark and automated art hidden away in the back office. Consumerisation and social media have helped to lighten perceptions but some concerns persist.

Wayne Smith, head of IS at Birmingham International Airport, says he has found that some people in the business still find the technology department a bit…

 

…unapproachable and that across the rest of the organisation technology is often seen as a hard, harsh thing. However, Smith says there is hope.

“Simple changes have a big effect. We are willing to invest in the underlying talent infrastructure to help our business and IT team. You’ve got to show your staff that you’re willing to invest in your team. Promote customer service internally and train your staff to the Information Technology Industry Council foundation level,” he says.

“By changing your approach to services, you make the rest of the business and your own IT staff more approachable and receptive. Our company is now more comfortable, and we have more people visiting the department and asking the right questions.”

3. Never talk in technical terms

Ian Campbell is an experienced IT chief with leadership knowledge from across the sectors, including recent group CIO positions at Transport for London and Citibank. His varied experience leads him to conclude that in terms of internal communication there is still much work to be done.

Avoiding talking in bits and bytes can improve the perception of IT within the business

Avoiding talking in bits and bytes can improve the perception of IT within the businessPhoto: Shutterstock

His key piece of advice is for CIOs to avoid getting bogged down in technical details. “Don’t talk about the technology,” says Campbell, who suggests that the business is simply not interested in detailed hardware and software specifications.

Rather than referring to bits and bytes, successful CIOs will exploit technology and talk in terms of business outcomes about the potential benefits of IT. “In some sectors, such as financial services, there’s no problem explaining the potential of technology because it already enables business to take place,” he says.

“In other industries, such as manufacturing, IT is often viewed as an adjunct and a necessary evil. One size does not necessarily fit all and CIOs in such environments must think about their specific area of operations.”

4. Always be honest and clear

“The internal perception of IT is really important,” says Hampshire County Council CIO Jos Creese, who believes that many IT departments often still fail to grasp the importance of developing an effective rapport with business peers.

It will never be enough to simply provide IT to a level that is perceived in the technology department to be acceptable. Internal communication is paramount and CIOs must work hard to show the real benefits of IT to line-of-business colleagues, according to Creese.

“Suppliers will always talk about the magical potential of IT. There’s nothing wrong with being optimistic but you need to say when something will be difficult. You need to be honest with your business peers about quality of service, and to be clear about opportunities and limitations,” says Creese.

“It’s always better to undersell the power of IT to the business initially and then to overdeliver. You should be able to demonstrate efficiency savings for every pound spent on technology systems. If you don’t deliver these efficiencies, you will have failed as a CIO.”

5. Provide more than vendor puff

Robert Thorogood, CTO at engineering consultancy hurleyplamerflatt, has worked hard during a seven-year spell at the firm to improve key relationships. He leads the internal creation of standards across auditing and innovation, and ensures honed practices are replicated externally.

Thorogood strives to ensure the business is surrounded by good people, helping internal and external executives to make timely decisions. Engagement plays a significant role, especially when it comes to interpreting vendor claims and reporting possible benefits to the business.

IT leaders hoping to improve internal perceptions need to be able to rely on trusted suppliers. Data that helps prove the benefits of technology is crucial. “The key is the availability of good information,” says Thorogood.

“It’s no good a vendor making specific claims if they haven’t got the data to back-up their suggestions. CIOs want openness – we’re keen to work with vendors that have products that have been developed through good quality research. And that’s not always the case, and that can cause problems for our business and our clients.”