Raising the esteem of IT

Communicate to win the respect of the business, says Margaret Smith

New Asset  

IT departments must learn to market their success to the rest of the business if they are to be equal partners in developing strategy and competitiveness, says Margaret Smith, IT director at Legal & General



Let me ask you a question or two: Who had the better mainframe hardware and software, IBM or ICL? And which one conquered the mainframe market? Who has the better PC technology, Apple or Intel? And which has the lion's share of the PC market?

Have you ever stopped to ask why? I believe that in both the examples above the battle was won by the excellence of the marketing of the victor.

Now let me pose a question that is closer to home. Do the key decision makers in your business think the IT department does a good job by providing value for money solutions that position the company competitively?

For those IT directors and managers who think that doing a good job is enough and that alone will be rewarded and recognised, think again. Must-have core competencies for anyone in IT who meets with their business colleagues are communication and marketing in simple business English. This comes as a shock to many people who entered the computing profession on the back of their science qualification, where the ability to string words together was not high up the priority list, let alone the idea of having to "sell" IT within their organisation.

Just as it would be a normal part of grooming for colleagues in other business areas to be good at public speaking, presentation skills, media training and message handling, so we must train our IT managers to handle themselves in the same way.

For the first 20 years of my career I was a computer professional dedicated to giving each company I worked for what it needed to be successful and could not understand, and was upset by, the bricks that kept being thrown at everyone in the IT department.

I then moved out of the IT department. For six years I ran a couple of the Legal & General businesses and suddenly I understood the problem. The root is that IT people always say "IT and the business", whereas other parts of the business never refer to themselves as a separate entity.

This leads to several problems. The way each part of the business thinks is different. They all have their own jargon which no one outside of their department understands. It is therefore not surprising that one message does n0t fit all and that IT staff must understand their audience and how they receive messages if an equal and supportive relationship is to be built.

Also, in my experience, quite a few IT people feel subservient to the rest of the business and that disagreeing or challenging what is requested of them is somehow not quite right.

There are some very able people who have chosen computing as their profession and the business could be getting better results if it harnessed this capability. It is our job as IT directors and managers to position IT as an equal partner in developing our companies' competitiveness, so we can help our people take their rightful place.

Finally, IT people are usually brutally honest and factually correct, so let us reward them for this and make sure that in any resulting marketing hype this does not get lost.

Margaret Smith is IT director at Legal & General

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