IT communication is not always a technical problem

I had the pleasure of spending time with some great IT folks at Camp IT’s IT Service Management conference recently in Chicago. I had a chance to do a presentation on Metrics That Matter but, as is usually the case, I learn so much listening to practitioners talk about what really works in the trenches. One question that seemed to resonate across the board — from large, enterprise organizations to small shops — was this: how can IT drive business value? There were many excellent answers, but there were several that related to one of the most important aspects of any relationship: communication.

Helping Non-IT ‘Speak The Language’

We, the IT people, love our jargon. It could be acronyms like SaaS, PMO or SAN. Or it could be nomenclatures like incident and service request. The challenge, many of the attendees found, was making it clear to their user community what they meant when they used them. Even better, they proposed, was finding ways to use the language of their users when describing tactics and strategy. This is not a new challenge for IT departments, but the increasingly complex environments we work in demand even greater attention to language and intent.

Take Action: Take a look at your customer-facing communications, e.g. portals, documentation and the like, from the viewpoint of the business rather than the technology. Make an effort to ensure it reflects how the business sees it as much as how it will be implemented or managed by IT.

Having A Communication Plan

Related to speaking the same language is keeping the user community “in the loop.” A tremendous amount of effort in IT organizations goes into planning and executing complex projects and programs or even just maintaining corporate systems and infrastructure. Camp IT attendees I spoke with explained that keeping the user community engaged through all aspects of a project, or even an incident or service request, goes a long way to ensuring a successful outcome. Keeping all stakeholders informed of plans and status helps ensure the technology efforts stay aligned with the business needs and, most importantly, minimizes surprises and improves end-user satisfaction.

Take Action: As the joke goes, “the operation was a success but the patient died”, should not be your result. Both the end users and the IT department need to have a clear understanding of what will be done, why it will be done, how it is progressing and how success will be measured. Make an effort to include communications as part of your overall project plan or service delivery strategy.

Managing Expectations

Part of the presentation I gave on metrics included a discussion of Service Level Agreements (SLA). One aspect of an SLA is a promise or guarantee: “the mail server will be up 98.9% of the time” or “help desk will be available by phone from 8 am to 8 pm, Monday thru Friday.” However, another aspect of SLA that resonated with Camp IT attendees was helping to manage expectations. I stole a page out of Shep Hyken’s playbook with a demonstration on expectations. To kick off my discussion on SLA’s I had our Regional Sales Manager, Meghan Scichilone, step up to the podium and introduced her to explain SLA’s. She stood at the podium and looked out at the audience…and said nothing. I had planned to let her stand there for 90 seconds but after a minute someone in the audience shouted out “you’re not managing our expectations!” When I asked the audience how long Meghan had been standing there, answers ranged from 45 seconds to 2 minutes.

Take Action: Ask yourself a simple question: does your community know what to expect from the IT department? This could be in terms of response time, resolution time, or simply service delivery. In the end, a significant part of aligning IT service management with business is having a satisfied user community. Make an effort to formalize and broadcast SLA’s to help better manage end user expectations.

One of the toughest challenges many IT organisations face is justifying value for the money spent on technology. Among the attendees, there was a great deal of conversation surrounding delivering business value and aligning IT service management with the business and many agreed that a significant contributor to value is communication. Whether it’s finding a common language, keeping everyone in the loop, or spelling out responsibilities and managing expectations, it was clear that communication is a strong contributor to IT service management success.