5 Ways to Bridge the IT Communications Gap

By Patricia Bramhall

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Watch for warning signs. Maybe your organization is discussing cutting the budget or outsourcing some part of IT. Or the volume of work continues to grow but you can’t get head count increases. Perhaps you rarely have lunch with other business executives, let alone get invited to strategic think-tank meetings.

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The challenge might be you are battling your IT users instead of serving them. IT needs to demonstrate a transformation from technology maintainer to proactive provider of strategic business services. Failure to do so creates a serious communications gap between the IT department and the rest of the organization.

Multiple surveys indicate IT managers must do more to improve the perception of IT services among CEOs and other business leaders. At IDC’s 16th annual European IT Forum in Paris last September, poor communications between IT and business executive colleagues was picked as the No.1 issue by a two-to-one margin.

In a Gartner Group survey of 1400 CIOs in 30 countries, again two-out-of-three said they see their jobs at risk based on the CEO's thumbs down view of IT and its performance. A McKinsey & Co. study of 90 French CEOs concluded that CIOs tend to focus too much on their relationship with the CEO and not enough on other business executives. A CEO who doesn't know IT judges IT performance by talking with his company executives.

To steal a great line from the movie Cool Hand Luke, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." If this sounds like your situation, here are five ways to provide better service and bridge the IT communications gap:

Find help to assess the situation. Get an outside, third-party to conduct an assessment of IT service performance with your business executives.

The assessment team can interview your key executives to provide a complete evaluation and gap analysis of your current process capability against the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), which is a comprehensive documentation of best practices within the framework of IT Service Management (ITSM), including the provision, support, and management of effective IT services.

You can’t do this as well as an outsider with no vested interest in the outcome, plus the business people will be more open because their complaints will not be directly attributed.

Understand that perception is reality. You might view some of the feedback as unfair. IT departments moan they are over-worked and under-funded. They lament that executives understand marketing and finance but haven’t got a clue when it comes to computers.

“Those people,” the complaints go, “just think of us as techies and nerds who want more expensive technology toys that increase overhead.” You need to prove them wrong.

Manage expectations. You need to measure the communications gap and then work to close the gap. You can complain about this being a classic no-win situation, or you can take charge of managing the expectations of IT department success within the organization. Kindly explain to IT users upfront how long things take or cost.

Open the lines of communication. The solution is not sweet talking the C-suite (“Nice tie, Mr. Bigley!”), but more consistent delivery of business value and better communication of that value.

Don’t wait for the business people to invite you to lunch, take them out for a meal. Breaking bread is a powerful tool. Unfortunately, good work doesn’t stand on its own — it needs to be explained and shared with others.

No more geek speak. Transform communications from IT jargon and alphabet soup into the language of business. Quit trying to teach them the language of IT. Instead, become bilingual so you can speak IT and business lingo like balanced scorecards and Six Sigma.

At the very least bone up on your IT-to-plain-English phrase book and talk to them in language they understand.

This is all hard work, but the payoff is well worth it. Bridging the communications gap is how you stop being viewed as a resource ”bottomless pit” and start being seen as a valued strategic player.

Patricia Bramhall, founder of Tydak Consulting Services, is a thought leader in the field of IT Service Management (ITSM). She is Information Technology Implementation Library (ITIL) certified, and has a stellar record of achieving project objectives and deliverables on time and below cost, with budgets of up to $120 million under her management.