Why IT leaders need to learn marketing and public relations

Amazon Web Services can't read a CEO's mind. But a CIO may at least know how to deliver what he or she wants.

In my last post , I talked about the challenges today's IT leaders face in a world in which everyone in the business is going around them to buy and manage their own applications and devices. 

Photo: HubSpot

Well, it isn't right to talk about problems without offering solutions. So here are some points to ponder, courtesy of Scott Bils, co-founder and advisor at Leverhawk. The situation, Scott explains, is that on many levels, IT is competing with outside technology providers (particularly cloud services) for the hearts and minds -- and wallets -- of business decision-makers. So IT departments need to offer more compelling, user-friendly and business-savvy services than the outside services offer, and at a better price point. That's IT as a Service.

The best bet for corporate IT to compete is by offering "a menu of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS options for business users via a centralized service catalog," Scott illustrates. "Business users are free to pick and choose cloud services that corporate IT has vetted, or provide themselves."

As service-catalog providers, IT departments are making the shift to brokers of business technology services, versus exclusively being developers, coders and administrators themselves.

There's an advantage corporate IT departments bring to the table that Amazon Web Services, Microsoft or IBM can't touch -- they are already intimately familiar with the processes of their enterprise, as well as the features that provide their companies competitive advantage. This means, of course, IT leaders need to bring their business prowess to the forefront, and engage with decision-makers to help grasp opportunities and tackle problems. AWS staff members may do a great job of running servers, storage and infrastructure, but it's not their jobs to work with CEOs to plan out strategies. Only internal CIOs and IT leaders can fulfill that role.

To that end, Scott outline the four new skills IT leaders need to cultivate to be a part of this new corporate world order:

Offer design: Cloud providers are hyper-sensitive to what their users are demanding in terms of features and functions. "It’s not enough to just build a private cloud and let it loose," Scott points out. "Post-launch internal IT needs to iterate and respond to user needs and usage behavior and modify offers accordingly just as a third-party service provider would do."

Have transparent and competitive pricing: While pricing internal services at prevailing market rates isn’t a traditional IT core competence, its essential to helping businesses recognize the value IT is bringing to the table. "Pricing of internal services need to reflect competitive market dynamics, and provide incentives to keep volumes in house," Scott says.

Engage in PR and marketing: Yes, internal IT departments need to effectively market and evangelize their services internally, especially since they are competing against the marketing and PR machines of the world's largest tech vendors. "This is more than just promotion," Scott explains. "It’s about understanding your customer’s needs and pains, whether it be business executives or developers, and effectively communicating your value prop."  

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Develop expertise in demand management: By its nature, cloud adoption and usage is unpredictable. So public vendors -- especially those offering infrastructure and platform services -- spend millions on demand forecasting and management. This is challenging for IT departments, who may be adept at capacity planning, but have little experience at demand forecasting. The ability to consistently handle user spikes is key to any service offering.