(“In Case You Missed It Monday” is my chance to showcase something that I wrote and published in another venue, but is still relevant. This week’s post originally appeared on TechInvest)
Change” is one word to describe the world and businesses today, but the same can’t be said for IT and their budgets. Many IT teams may find their IT budgets are on hold (if not reduced), despite the focus on technology to ensure business continuity as many businesses still work from home. Even as IT pros rush to onboard hybrid IT solutions to cope with new business challenges, the latest SolarWinds® IT Trends Report 2020: The Universal Language of IT also reaffirmed this 35% are doing so with relatively unchanged budgets, while 21% are struggling to match spend with changing business priorities.
Arguably, these barriers are direct consequences to how IT has been operating for a long time. From the way tech investments are pitched and goals are set, the language and mindset of IT has been dissimilar from the business. But in this new age, IT must change and adapt to survive. This means greater alignment with the business, and more coherent, business-oriented communication with stakeholders and peers. But if we can overcome the emotional and psychological discomfort we feel during times of change, we will find the reward is, in fact, growth.
Learn the Simple Language of Business
We must first address the dissonance between IT and everyone else. While the IT community understands the benefits of Kubernetes and the complexities of AWS migrations, those big tasks rarely matter for non-technical businesspeople. Despite the obvious disconnect, IT folks have continued to insist on justifying the need for investment based on improved technical specs and not business needs, causing pitches and budget requests to fall flat, or even reduce in the current climate. In other words, IT tends to describe WHAT tech does, not WHY it’s important for the business, and HOW it resolves a business problem or helps the company meet a specific goal.
The problem isn’t the importance of technical specs, but rather that it’s being presented in the language of IT. The job of an IT pro is to translate technicalities into tangible business outcomes. So what if the cloud auto-backups every 10 hours? It means greater business continuity and security against cyberattacks. So what if this solution has robust automation? It means a huge percentage of manual work can be eliminated, freeing employees for other tasks. In short, IT professionals must “sell” (although, admittedly, we hate that word, so how about “frame” or “contextualize”) the solution by elaborating on how it helps the organisation. If IT speaks the language of business, then next month’s budget will likely feel a little healthier than before.
Sharpen Interpersonal Skills
Along with learning how to talk business, it’s important for IT pros to improve the quality and method of communicating with everyone else where possible. The stereotype of the “socially awkward IT guy” needs to go; increasingly, IT must learn to communicate effectively, express their thoughts and opinions clearly, and read between the lines like everyone else. Below are some areas of communication today’s IT pros can work on:
- Get on the Same Page
In this buzzword-heavy industry, certain terms and jargons can have different contextual meanings—a direct result of scattered marketing efforts. Before using a popular term like SDN or artificial intelligence, define it clearly first with your audience. Don’t assume everyone—even your CTO—understands it as you do.
- Avoid “Techsplaining”
Unless it’s to define terms or clarify how technology can help the business avoid risk, reduce cost, and/or increase revenue, avoid techsplaining at all costs. Doing so implies your business audience can’t ask the right questions or understand the nuances of your explanation. Techsplaining speaks at—not with—the audience, eroding any hard-earned trust or confidence.
- “No” Doesn’t Mean “Never”
Unlike tech and the code powering it, nothing in life is quite as binary. In business, “no” is an ambiguous word. It could mean “no, not now” or “no, you haven’t convinced me”—and businesspeople seldom clarify. Rarely does it mean “no and never ask me about this again.” Read between the lines and ask follow-up questions, like “What do you need to see in this to feel comfortable saying yes?” “Is this tech not suited for our current needs?” and “When can I circle back on this to show you how I’ve adopted your feedback?” Be genuine and reassuring.
The above pointers are a useful starting base, but IT must also be upfront about their intent and effort to improve communications. Since IT forms the backbone of most businesses, management would be more than willing to accommodate this change. This openness should also help IT pros tackle their next great big challenge: the alignment of goals.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
It’s no secret IT tends to be an isolated business function. While they don’t (usually) operate out of broom closets or basement offices as depicted in pop culture, IT teams can often be running out of the loop. Here’s a typical scenario: leadership expresses the need for the business to transition to the cloud, and IT goes off to find out the specifics required to make this happen. Meanwhile, a hundred things happen, rapidly shifting the business focus. The next time IT shows up, ready to present solutions, they’re told priorities have changed.
To resolve this, IT must improve communication and engage in a more transparent two-way dialogue with upper management and the larger business. There’s no other way around this. But as long as they adopt the pointers above, and focus conversations around business revenue, cost optimization solutions, and risks—not technical specifics—IT will be well on their way to gaining the support of upper management and the approval for bigger and more robust IT budgets.