Selling the IT vision

perspective Does your organization understand what IT does--and why? IT director Peter Birley offers some advice on how to make sure the line-of-business counterparts do.
Written by Peter Birley, Contributor

perspective IT is now an integral part of any business and can be aligned with a business' success.

This success is not necessarily in sales terms, although a system offering competitive advantage to a client relationship could create just that, but generally more in efficiency and support.

The opposite is also true in that an IT disaster could bring down a business.

All this establishes that IT is important to the business--but does everybody in your organization understand and support that? Do people in the business know where IT is going?

We as CIOs and IT leaders need to find a way to let the business know what IT is doing and why.

From an IT point of view it is often difficult selling this 'vision'. In particular it can be hard to overcome the language barrier when communicating with the business so conversations can be held at the right level to engage colleagues across the organization.

With this in mind and struggling myself to find a solution, I carried out a survey with a few colleagues to get some advice about what has worked for them.

From that research the following key considerations in creating an IT vision came out:

  • Base the decisions for what is included in the IT vision on hard business facts and metrics
  • Understand the challenges the business faces and link the IT vision to them
  • Involve the business in the creation of the IT vision
  • Get business sponsorship of the vision as early as possible
  • Avoid discussion of technology and concentrate on business outcomes and events
  • Keep the timeframe within a 12-36-month period
  • Quantify the impact of adoption of particular programs or technologies in terms of cost, risk and benefit
  • Avoid terminology in explaining the vision
  • Consider a range of options and communicate these
  • Summarze with a high-level road map for IT

These considerations told me the creation of the vision is the important part, in which the business must be fully engaged and which must reflect the business position. It confirms what many people have been talking about--we have known for ages that IT must be aligned to the business if it is to be successful.

Following these considerations gives us an aligned vision with business involvement, support and sponsorship and therefore a solid foundation. But it is important the vision is communicated to the many, not just the few.

Here are some areas for consideration in communicating the vision across your organization.

For the content of your communication:

  • Create an elevator speech
  • Create a business-like presentation using Flash (not just PowerPoint) to make it interesting and interactive
  • Remember the points from creation (avoid terminology/concentrate on outcomes)

For delivering the vision:

  • Involve a business sponsor in the delivery to show support
  • Go on road shows
  • Hold one-to-one meetings with key players--keep your pitch succinct
  • Speak at departmental meetings
  • E-mail your presentation out
  • Create a Web 2.0 portal for your colleagues to view
  • Start a poster campaign around the office
  • Set up an 'IT vision booth' in a common area such as the office cafe or canteen

Whichever path is chosen we need to remember that the IT vision is a living program and not a one-off delivery, and therefore needs regular communication to let people know how it is going. It should also be reviewed at least annually.

One final point in having done all this is: did it work?

To find out, you could ask colleagues to relate the vision back to you. But I think you will know if it's working. When the general credibility of IT rises and the business starts getting involved in strategic discussions at an early stage, you will know you have arrived.

Peter Birley is director of IT at law firm Browne Jacobson LLP. He contributed this article to ZDNet Asia's sister site Silicon.com.

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