Bridges should be built on trust

Many IT directors and their staff feel - rightly or wrongly - that they are still seen as "the techies" who are there simply to sort out the IT nuts and bolts while others make the important decisions.

Many IT directors and their staff feel - rightly or wrongly - that they are still seen as "the techies" who are there simply to sort out the IT nuts and bolts while others make the important decisions.

That certainly seems unfair, especially as the permeation of IT through so many business processes means that IT people have an overview of every area of the business which other managers would struggle to achieve.

For many years we have heard that IT people need to talk the same language as their colleagues in other business areas. That is fine as far as it goes, but speaking the same language does not automatically mean productive communication.

Real communication needs a proactive approach, as at WS Atkins, our case study on page 28. Atkins' IS director Lesley Hume first decided that effective communication begins at home and took concrete steps to sharpen it up within the IT department.

She also recognised that some formal processes needed to be set in train to create the crucial links between IT staff and the rest of the business, such as inviting speakers from across the business to address IT staff, sending IT managers on account handling courses, and presenting IT updates at meetings of strategic business units.

Such moves can require emotional stamina. IT is an easy scapegoat for managers' frustrations and the initial stages of such communications initiatives can mean a Buddha-like acceptance of other people's complaints. However, patience and goodwill will usually pay dividends, especially when other managers come to understand just how important IT is to gain competitive edge.

But the key, as in all business relationships, is trust. And that trust is gained primarily by making sure that the service delivery elements of IT are handled impeccably. Otherwise, even the most well thought out communications programme will be drowned out by the chorus of complaint.

Tough guys pay a price

Communications beyond the business are also fertile ground for a proactive approach by the IT department - especially when it comes to outsourced operations. The study by Warwick Business School (see page 8) shows the costs of a relationship based on power rather than trust.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the customer's legal rights and the service provider's contractual obligations, all the benchmarking and sanctions in the world cannot do the job of a trusting relationship built on effective personal communications.

 

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