Smart ways geeks can impress the suits

As an IT manager do you find it hard to convince C-level execs about your department’s value to the company?

If so, welcome to the club.

The much lamented communication gapbetween IT and business is decades-old.

However, a smattering of business lingo and throwing in a few useful applications for the “suits” could brighten the narrative for the battle scarred techie, according to an expert panel.

Hosted by Cogeco Data Services Monday, the panel focused on enhancing communication between C-level execs and IT management.

Many barriers in this area has to do with role perceptions, noted one panelist.

“We have been talking about for more than 15 years,” said David Senf, research director, infrastructure solutions at analyst firm IDC Canada.

“When we ask IT managers to define their role they bring up terms such as revenue generation and innovation,” Senf said. “When business is asked about the role of IT, they point to cost reduction.”

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Senf moderated the panel discussion, which was partly based on recent survey conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion on behalf of Cogeco.

The survey also highlighted the adverse impact of poor communications channels.

It reported that:

  • 37 per cent of IT managers do not have a sufficient level of authority to approach C-level executives with data concerns
  • 32 per cent of respondents say their firm’s corporate structure makes change hard
  • Nearly 40 per cent of respondents are either unsure or don’t believe their companies have protocols to identify and control data growth issues

There’s an app for that

The panelists agreed that IT needs to brush up its knowledge of the business in order to “articulate” their value to the organization, beyond mere utility.

“IT has to be aggressive in articulating their value to the company and the onus is on them to learn the language of business,” said Robert Smith, chief technology consultant for MaRS Discovery District, a tech startup incubator in Toronto.

One of the attendees came up with a novel way for IT departments to overcome the language and cultural barrier.

“IT managers were told how to build databases and solve technical problems not to talk about business,” noted said Rino Ciaccia, senior data management architect for State Street Global Advisors. “But they can perhaps communicate their department’s value by building applications for managers.”

State Street is a Montreal-based institutional investment management firm.

Ciaccia said IT departments can take advantage of businesses’ reliance on mobile devices and provide staff with in-house applications to ease workloads or boost productivity.

“That way IT can get people at work talking about how much the department is able to help them.”

Building in house applications is a great way to market IT, Senf agreed. He said a similar strategy worked wonders for IDC Canada’s IT department when they built an in-house e-mail app for the firm.

Need for open dialogue

Without open and regular dialogues between C-level executives and IT managers, corporate practices and systems to ensure data integrity can not be developed, according to Tony Cicirretto, president of Cogeco.

The result, he said, often means that problems are swept under the rug until they finally blow up: “Data issues can occur very suddenly – as in a system crash – or over a long period through hoarding of emails and the like”.

“It was traditionally the task of the CIO to bridge this gap between IT and business,” pointed out Paul Barker, editor of Cabling Networking Magazine and one of the panelists.

He, however, said that many organizations appear not to be satisfied with their CIO’s performance: “CIOs appear to be replaced as often as they are hired these days.”

Many IT managers see their task as a thankless job noted Asif Bhaidu, director of IT for interactive and social marketing firm OgilvyOne Worldwide Toronto.

“In many cases, management does not take notice when IT personnel stay overnight to fix or avert a problem. But the department becomes the focus of attention when something wrong occurs,” he said.

Bhaidu said there is a strong need to communicate how IT successes or the failure to support IT will impact the company.

Stuart Paterson, storage specialist for Cogeco agrees.

“IT people are getting pretty tired of being bearers of bad news,” he said.

“The COO (chief operations officer) can take on the role of liaison between business and IT to speak of IT’s value,” said Paterson.

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