I’m bound to get some criticism over this, but I really believe that IT professionals have some of the worst communication skills I’ve encountered anywhere. So, when I see any attempts from consultants or organizations to improve IT communications within the corporation or to customers outside of it, I take notice.

One such effort that I ran across recently is the Value Matrix prepared by a group called the CIO Executive Council. The goal of this Value Matrix, it claims, is to provide a framework to describe in layman’s terms what IT does to create and communicate its value to the enterprise.

That sounds great, but I’d say that the 18 months of council member effort that supposedly went into this exercise was a colossal waste of time. The Value Matrix is a wall-sized chart of 130 topics hierarchically displayed under three main headings ­- stakeholder alignment, communication and CIO role. If communicating IT value in layman’s terms is that complicated, that’s not communication at all.

At its best, the online version of the chart is a database of articles relevant to IT management under those 130 topics. At its worst, it is nothing more than a smoke and mirrors effort for CIOs to justify their existence to their CEO or board members.

I’d say that when a CIO or other IT executive wants to explain IT products or services to outside customers or IT changes within the enterprise, something like a white paper would be much more valuable. Simple and effective, the white paper is a soft-sell of the concepts or issues behind a forthcoming launch of new products or services.

For example, if your company sells VoIP products or wants to switch over to VoIP internally, you’d issue a white paper on the advantages of VoIP over more traditional telecom systems. Ideally, you’d get a third-party to write it. An arm’s length effort conveys a sense of objectivity. It’s also more likely to be well written, assuming the author has a history of writing such papers.

Why a white paper, instead of an offprint of a magazine article or product/service brochure? The answer is simple. Research from ITtoolbox (July 2006) found that a whopping 70 per cent of IT professionals rely on white papers to make purchasing decisions. Magazine articles, on the other hand, are discarded quickly, and sales materials aren’t trusted as a reliable source.

I’m willing to argue that a similar statistic would be obtained within a company with respect to establishing trust among users who are expected to adopt any technological change.

Think about it. A soft-sell document convincing employees that VoIP is right for your company sets the stage for your rollout and makes end-users receptive to change. Contrast that with the common practice of dropping in a new phone or computer system and an instruction manual.

That’s not the end of my advice about IT communications, but it’s a start.

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