How do you solve a problem like communication? Five top tips for IT teams

The best ways of addressing tech people's famously poor communication skills...

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. 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...

By Mark Samuels

Mark Samuels is a business journalist and editor at IT leadership organisation CIO Connect. He has written for various organisations, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, Guardian Government Computing and Times Higher Education.