Marketing IT to the business

When it comes to delivering services to the business, the IT team may be doing a fantastic job meeting requests with the budgets available. New applications may be in development to meet requirements, the new PC needed by marketing may have been delivered to meet the SLA and the Windows 7 migration project may be ready to go.

However, what the business may see is completely different. The business may see that an application request is still to be met, the new PC was needed by marketing yesterday and users are complaining that their machines at home are more up to date than those provided by the company.

What is the difference between these two viewpoints? The answer is marketing. When it comes to promoting itself to the board, other business units seem to master this better than IT does. IT as a function has always been seen as separate to the rest of the business, rather than being a support unit that underpins much of the activity that a business engages in. Consequently, IT has not shouted about and has not been praised for all the good work that it does.

Technical issues tend to be the initial reason for staff across the business to interact with the IT support function, while the popular end user view of IT is that it is just like the Little Britain character stating: “Computer Says No.” IT is also being compared to the cloud and other service providers in terms of business value created and these organizations tend to be much slicker than the IT function, when it comes to presenting themselves well.

To counteract this, IT has to make more noise about the positive contribution it can offer to the business and to the productivity of individual users. A lot of this can be driven by the consumerization of IT. As people have got used to new devices such as iPads and Android smartphones, staff across businesses are becoming more tech savvy than they were in the past. While users don’t know everything, IT is now able to have much more grown-up conversations about what IT can provide and go through what benefits can really be delivered.

By marketing, I’m not talking about IT promoting itself with just pretty designs.

To gain the respect of the business, IT must make its significance and business value felt. To do this, IT must adopt a lean and results-driven approach and make itself more understandable and accessible too. By doing this, the department can show the organization that it is both meeting business requirements and taking care of the IT ‘plumbing’ as well.

There are three areas that IT can focus on to achieve this. The first relates to  applications. On the consumer side, everyone loves knowing about the latest app that can meet their needs. Consequently, the IT department should be thinking about user experience as much as the functionality side when it comes to application development and the delivery of services.

The second area concerns IT’s presentation of results. This approach relies on the organization using technologies that make processes themselves leaner and more joined up across IT and the rest of the business. Not only does this help to deliver those projects more efficiently, it also makes it easier to supply information back to the organization.

Neither IT nor any other function can afford to operate in a silo. Business processes cross over multiple levels within an organisation and therefore projects should be managed and reported on in the same way. Taking a more integrated approach to how these processes are managed and run not only makes them more efficient, it also allows organisations to see what is happening across different teams and get a viewpoint on overall progress. This makes it easier for non-IT managers to get an overview of how project delivery is going, as well as taking up less reporting time within IT.

For example, application release management is a technical task that reaches across multiple teams. Rather than just being the responsibility of the development team or IT in general, applications are based on demand within the business, work by development and support by IT operations. Business representatives are involved during the initial design phase and through testing. When apps go live, it is the business that will see the value and feedback on whether the whole effort has a positive impact. Once software is released out to the business, the whole process starts again.

Making this more efficient involves software development and operations teams coming closer together around integrated, automated systems. This ‘DevOps’ approach can lead to better performance for both the development and operations teams as well as the faster release of applications.

The third area that IT should look at is delivery. IT has got positive proof of the business value and results that it is delivering but it must do its best to shout about this. If IT wants a higher profile, it must increase its visibility at board level. To market itself to the board, IT should supply an automated dashboard of all IT projects and make it available for executives to understand. To achieve this, more integration and understanding of process must be in place.

If handing information to the CIO is going to be an achievable marketing goal for IT, then greater automation of processes and dashboards will sell IT’s story to the board. This approach makes the function a supplier of intelligence to help inform and direct executive decisions, rather than just dealing with the nuts and bolts of technology. It also puts IT in a strong position to make changes happen and therefore better control its own destiny.

This article was written by my friend and colleague Mark Slater, Regional Director UK and Ireland for Serena Software.

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