Having a head of internal communications for IT is not about technology but about demonstrating the capabilities IT can provide to users across the business

Having a head of internal communications for IT is not about technology but about demonstrating the capabilities IT can provide to users across the businessPhoto: Shutterstock

IT enjoys an unwelcome reputation for working behind closed doors. Even when the tech team comes up with a great solution to a problem, IT people often fail to communicate potential benefits in terms the business can easily understand.

In a collaborative age, where engagement inside and outside the business is a given, IT leaders have to work harder to develop top communications skills. silicon.com presents five top tips for smarter engagement from IT experts.

1. Employ a communications specialist in the IT department

Matt Peers, CIO of consultants Deloitte, is part of the new, younger generation of IT leaders. He has recently taken over technology stewardship at the company, bringing with him more than a decade of customer-facing experience from high-street retailer Carphone Warehouse.

Strong engagement with all interested parties is the absolute crux of the matter for Peers. “I base all my leadership on good communications,” he says. “Engagement is the key component for successful IT.”

Since joining Deloitte, Peers has helped work towards the recruitment of an internal communications specialist for the IT department. This specialist will analyse IT strategy and help define in simple terms how line-of-business executives can benefit from the good work of the technology team.

“It helps you concentrate on the type of message that you are really trying to get across to the rest of the organisation,” he says. “Having a head of internal communications for IT is not about technology but about demonstrating the capabilities we can provide to users across the business.”

2. Recognise that communication is a two-way process

Steve Walker is IT director at Trinity Mirror and has just helped transfer 6,500 staff to Google Apps to improve collaboration across 60 office locations. Moving to the cloud is a big transition, and convincing employees of the potential for a new collaboration platform is essential.

Walker included the corporate head of communications as a key project stakeholder to ensure employees were kept up to date – a decision he says has been crucial. “Our communications colleagues have helped us create well-written IT documents. It’s been hugely beneficial, meaning we have clear and concise language.”

Communication is a two-way process, too. As a return favour, Walker and his colleagues have worked quickly to develop a new Google Sites intranet for the firm’s Canary Wharf headquarters in the east of London.

The communications team will be able to use the site to promote internal business activity. “We said from the outset that our use of cloud is a business, and not an IT, change project,” says Walker, referring back to the need to include key communications workers as part of the technology rollout process.

3. Address the business need first to bring sustainable value

Any communications gap between IT and the rest of the organisation can only be filled by listening closely to the demands of the business, says Hakan Carlbom, CIO at EQT, a group of private equity funds with investments in Europe, Asia and the US.

“You must address the business and client interaction,” he says, referring to EQT’s recent implementation of IntraLinks’ cloud service to enable the secure exchange of critical business information with investors.

“We need to be fast in the finance sector, and the internal IT department is always being…

…challenged by change in the market. Questions about new potential technologies come from the business every day and you’re always likely to be behind innovation, as the market should always be faster,” says Carlbom.

“I try to focus on systems that can bring sustainable value to the organisation. In my view, we can excel at being smart in intelligence and in understanding the broader collaborative trends.”

4. Look to the younger generation of IT leaders

As leader of the IT effectiveness team at Deloitte, Phil Everson meets CIOs on a daily basis and works with IT leaders across the UK to help create change programmes that benefit the business. His conclusion is simple: CIOs are not great at talking about the potential benefits of IT.

“There is a definite communication problem,” says Everson. “People talk about the need for technology executives to develop and generate a hybrid of IT and business skills, but teaching business skills to IT people doesn’t work; and neither does the converse teaching technique.”

You cannot, as such, teach an old IT leader a new bunch of business-focused communication tricks. However, there is hope for change and Everson believes that optimism comes in the form of a cadre of younger CIOs who are engaging with the organisation and helping to redefine the role of IT in the business.

“A new generation of CIOs is emerging who have IT and business skills,” he says, suggesting that we are moving towards an era of business-relationship management and that the successful CIO will be a communications specialist.

5. Develop good governance to demonstrate the value of data

The need for good communication is not going to go away. Jim Orr, author of Data Governance for the Executive and a director at IT company Information Builders, says 2012 will actually be the year that CIOs learn to communicate the true value of IT.

“More C-level executives will start asking searching questions of the CIO and will look to challenge the traditional status quo,” says Orr. He argues that a CIO who manages to introduce a solid framework for data governance will be best-placed to demonstrate how information and technology can benefit the rest of the business.

“CIOs are in a learning phase right now. In 20 years, IT leaders will look back to what’s happening at the moment and recognise that the industry morphed and changed. Technology will eventually be a business discipline that is entrenched within the central organisation – not an outsider looking in,” he says.

“IT leaders must continue with the education process and show how information is an asset to the organisation. Good governance of data should enable CIOs to undertake unusual business activities through IT. The number one benefit of good governance is transparency and visibility.”