THE BLOG

CIOs Must Use Their Voice...

03/03/2014 16:04 GMT | Updated 30/04/2014 10:59 BST

Stereotypes always have a certain amount of accuracy and truth about them. For example, many IT professionals live up to their perceived image. In other words, they are not always great at communicating.

This is why I am tying up my first series of blogs on how chief information officers (CIOs) and IT directors can carve out a new role for themselves, by discussing the need to 'communicate the vision'.

IT within businesses is changing. Advances such as the cloud, the mobile revolution and big data analytics are making technology a business driver rather than just an enabler. And at the same time, with the cloud, the need to maintain cumbersome and complex server-based enterprise applications is receding.

So, in the future there will be a reducing requirement for in-house teams of expensive IT professionals whose job is to "keep the lights on" for the business. IT applications will be upgraded and maintained by third-party providers in the cloud in a number, but not all, instances.

But, crucially, there will still be a major role for those who are flexible enough to adapt to the new landscape and become innovative about the ways IT can transform an organisation for the better. Consequently, I have been looking at the five key areas set to drive business success over the next few years and then considering how CIOs can use these to define a new role.

To date, I've examined:

• The need for technical teams to be re-skilled and become more commercially aware and focussed on relationships not technology.

• The role CIOs can play in enabling the workforce, ensuring they develop their skills on an ongoing basis.

• The concept of "turning customers into fans" and how IT departments must win the loyalty of their "customers", even if these are their fellow workers within an organisation.

• The importance of having a long-term business enabled IT strategy to ensure relevance to the market both now and in five years' time.

Now, I want to stress the need for CIOs and their staff to be more open and transparent about their vision and their propositions. Not only must they take these changes on board, but they must also communicate their evolving roles and successes on an ongoing basis.

In a recent article in the Financial Times entitled "Beware techies talking gobbledegook", the renowned financial journalist Gillian Tett claims; "The way modern society treats IT looks uncannily similar to the picture with finance before 2007." She urges us to, "ask hard questions" about IT and says, "... for much of the time, computing experts live in a technical silo of their own".

Her comments illustrate how, for years, IT has been seen as something you can't really explain to anyone without IT knowledge; the "you'll never understand, so I won't really try to tell you" mentality that has given IT departments and service providers a bad name up until now.

Partly this is because of the historical position of the IT department. Typically it has only communicated with its "customers" when there's a problem, such as the email not working. It has got used to telling others about things going wrong, instead of communicating at a different level about strategy and business impact. CIOs need to learn how to tell a story that doesn't just explain, but also motivates and inspires.

If they take on board the need to attract, retain and develop staff who are more proactive and to develop existing staff to spot new opportunities, they need to be able describe the long-term business vision. To turn their "customers" into fans they must become more open and share successes. They must show the world - or at least their own organisation - that they can deliver business value as well as technology.

At a basic level, suppose a business is over-delivering on an SLA. The client won't appreciate the added value unless they are told. But, if as a matter of routine, the IT department can liaise with customer account managers and give them the heads up, then this can easily be passed on to the client and everybody is happy.

On a slightly higher plane, they need to be able to sell their ideas to the board, explaining in terms even the least technical can understand, how it will benefit the business to be able to predict customer behaviour using big data or how productivity can be improved by issuing field workers with tablet computers.

If Tett's article is anything to go by, there could be a backlash against computer geek-speak just when the IT community needs it least. However, CIOs need to get there first. They must communicate effectively, frequently and relevantly if they want to be sure of their position in the new business world order.