Business People and IT People: Improving Communication

NetCraftsmen®

Have you ever met a married couple so in tune with one another that one spouse can finish the other’s sentences?

You’d think that after all these years of technology being a driving force behind business growth, there’d be similarly strong communication links between IT and business leaders. Alas, it’s still the case that those kinds of close relationships remain the exception rather than the rule. Let’s face it, even IT executives and the engineers or analysts who report to them sometimes seem to be speaking different languages.

Sure, companies have managed to be successful despite these communication gaps. But have they been as successful as they could be – or at least have they achieved their success in as seamless and efficient a way as possible? We’d say probably not.

Clearly, any enterprise that wants to lead more strategically, innovate more creatively, and expand more aggressively has a vested interest in being able to communicate more effectively. IT professionals, you should champion the cause of becoming better communicators outside of your own cohorts. When speaking to CEOs, CFOs, business unit leaders, or even other IT group members, remember that although you’re all working on the same problems, you may be approaching issues from a different conceptual viewpoint.

That being the case, ask yourself: What can you do to bring those different viewpoints into greater alignment? How can you take action to drive better communication across the organization so that the impact and benefits of suggested IT proposals or revisions are clear to everyone?

Here are some ways to get started:

IT executives should know the enterprise vision. Do you know your company’s five-year plan? If not, it’s time to ask about it, so that you can understand where the business is going and how business executives talk about achieving those goals. Optimally, IT will even be involved in the discussions that generate those strategies.

Getting your foot in the door here gives you the heads-up you need to plan the right technology to support those aims. And it gives you a chance to understand the language you should adopt in discussing the technology efforts you believe will be critical to the enterprise’s success with your business colleagues. (Bonus points if you translate that strategy all the way down to your line staff, so that the entire IT team feels part of the bigger picture.)

IT leaders should build business use cases for their initiatives. Talking with business colleagues and superiors about your IT-driven business ideas in language they can understand is good. Crafting business plans about them that address each audience’s particular issues in plain and clear written detail is even better.

Take that idea you had of putting new data center infrastructure in place to enhance scalability and halt bottlenecks to business growth. In the past, you may have mentioned the need to replace legacy systems that are getting old in language completely absent of business-goal context – and in the process sent your CFO into spasms of worry about the IT budget going through the roof. Now that you understand the corporate five-year plan, though, you can structure your proposition for a technology refresh around the enterprise’s key objectives, such as driving ecommerce growth.

Put your proposition in that context in a formal use case document. Don’t just talk “speeds and feeds”, but rather focus on how your solution will accelerate customer interactions to encourage buying behaviors and contribute to revenue growth, and how quickly it can be implemented. That will go a long way towards turning your CFO – and your CEO, too – into big fans of your plans.

IT staff should always be prepared to supply more information and explanations. Just as IT leaders should become familiar with the language of business, so too should all IT members be ready to help business users understand the technical concepts that are part of their world. That doesn’t mean getting nitty-gritty about the architecture of your hyper-converged systems. But it does mean providing enough knowledge to help business colleagues make their next strategic decision or get them to understand that the IT group is ahead of the game in key respects.

For example, maybe your CEO just read an article about being in the cloud…and someone at Gartner says your company should be in the cloud…and now you’re getting questioned about why you haven’t gotten the business in the cloud yet! It’s obvious to you that your deployment awhile back of Office 365 for productivity applications and Box for online file storage means the company already is immersed in the cloud, but don’t assume that is clear to individuals outside the IT department. Or maybe you haven’t moved in the cloud direction yet but for good reason – perhaps you lack the resources you need to assure security and seamless integration with onsite resources.

Either way, concisely lay the facts out: once your CEO understands them, he or she may encourage you to explore the cloud beyond what you’ve already accomplished or give you additional aid to manage the issues that have kept you from the cloud to date.

Work as a team, no matter what. Regardless of how many efforts are made upfront to ensure that everyone is working from the same playbook, there is always the chance that a project will run late, an installation will get in trouble, a deployment won’t deliver. Frankly, this may be less the result of poor communications between business and IT than it is of poor communications between different IT divisions.

If and when that happens, it’s important to not assign blame, regardless of how clear it might be to you where fault belongs. Remember that everyone is working towards the same business goals here, so keep the conversations calm and non-confrontational and get the problem solved.

IT leaders should take the same approach when issues arise with business peers too, of course. Take, for example, a line-of-business head using a credit card to spin up an Amazon web server for a new effort without consulting IT. While it may be normal for an IT exec to feel annoyed at the action, especially if it could put sensitive corporate data at risk, it’s better to consider this an opportunity on two fronts.

First, is the chance to explain to the business leader that IT needs to vet such plans in advance, for the overall good of the company. Second, is the realization of a gap in IT’s own processes when it comes to discovering true business needs, so that that issue can be appropriately addressed.

The knowledge that you can be a critical part of driving effective communications that make for a healthier and wealthier business should be empowering. No time to waste, then – get cracking with some smart listening and talking!

We’d be happy to talk more about how your own organization can more effectively align communications between business and IT professionals. Just reach out for a conversation.

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Nick Kelly

Cybersecurity Engineer, Cisco

Nick has over 20 years of experience in Security Operations and Security Sales. He is an avid student of cybersecurity and regularly engages with the Infosec community at events like BSides, RVASec, Derbycon and more. The son of an FBI forensics director, Nick holds a B.S. in Criminal Justice and is one of Cisco’s Fire Jumper Elite members. When he’s not working, he writes cyberpunk and punches aliens on his Playstation.

 

Virgilio “BONG” dela Cruz Jr.

CCDP, CCNA V, CCNP, Cisco IPS Express Security for AM/EE
Field Solutions Architect, Tech Data

Virgilio “Bong” has sixteen years of professional experience in IT industry from academe, technical and customer support, pre-sales, post sales, project management, training and enablement. He has worked in Cisco Technical Assistance Center (TAC) as a member of the WAN and LAN Switching team. Bong now works for Tech Data as the Field Solutions Architect with a focus on Cisco Security and holds a few Cisco certifications including Fire Jumper Elite.

 

John Cavanaugh

CCIE #1066, CCDE #20070002, CCAr
Chief Technology Officer, Practice Lead Security Services, NetCraftsmen

John is our CTO and the practice lead for a talented team of consultants focused on designing and delivering scalable and secure infrastructure solutions to customers across multiple industry verticals and technologies. Previously he has held several positions including Executive Director/Chief Architect for Global Network Services at JPMorgan Chase. In that capacity, he led a team managing network architecture and services.  Prior to his role at JPMorgan Chase, John was a Distinguished Engineer at Cisco working across a number of verticals including Higher Education, Finance, Retail, Government, and Health Care.

He is an expert in working with groups to identify business needs, and align technology strategies to enable business strategies, building in agility and scalability to allow for future changes. John is experienced in the architecture and design of highly available, secure, network infrastructure and data centers, and has worked on projects worldwide. He has worked in both the business and regulatory environments for the design and deployment of complex IT infrastructures.