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How to talk about tech: Five ways to get people interested in your new project

If you want people to back your plans, then you need to ensure you don't bamboozle them with bits and bytes.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor on

Non-IT people are now more responsible for buying technology than ever before – business-led IT spend accounts for 36% of the total tech budget, says analyst Gartner, and will continue to increase in coming years.

This change in buying patterns has huge implications for the people across the business who are purchasing their own technology devices, applications and services.

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While some of the tricky technical elements – such as system integration and implementation – will be picked up by internal IT teams and external service providers, workers still need to convince the people they answer to that the technology they're planning to buy is worthy of an investment.  

For many business professionals, talking about technology plans is going to be a new responsibility – so, how can they discuss data and digital in a way that gets the ear of the boss? Here's five ways to keep people interested when you talk about technology.

1. Focus on business outcomes

Never talk about technology in isolation – the value of implementing new systems and services comes from the benefits they provide to the business and its customers.

That's a lesson that's been proven time and again, says Spencer Clarkson, CTO at business services specialist Verastar, who says anyone looking to secure an investment in IT must concentrate on the potential positive outcomes.

"Any project is not about the technology per se, it's about change for the business and change for its customers. The technology just provides a platform to enable that to happen," he says.

So, whether it's a boon in productivity through the introduction of collaboration services or a boost to the bottom line through opening new digital channels to market, anyone looking to talk tech must focus on the aims and objectives.

"If you're focused on what you're trying to achieve, it's fairly straightforward to show the benefits of technology. It's about taking people on a journey," says Clarkson.

2. Create a shared language 

As you learn more about the technology you're going to use, you'll start to become a specialist. That's no bad thing, but you can't allow your new knowledge to turn into a niche interest.

IT professionals are often criticised – rightly or wrongly – for focusing too much on bits and bytes and not enough on business benefits. As you take responsibility for buying technology, you can't afford to fall into the same trap.

Don't focus on how technology works. Concentrate, instead, on the human angle. Demonstrate clearly how technology solves a problem that the business faces and you'll receive a positive response from your peers and managers. 

To make things easy to understand, use terms that relate to existing processes and priorities, such as customer satisfaction rates or profits. The aim should to ensure that you create a shared language about your technology projects, says Milena Nikolic, CTO at Trainline.

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Talk to as many people as possible about your plans. Get a wide range of individuals involved in your discussions and allow them to play a part in shaping your conversations.

"You learn a language best by talking about it. Creating some content and presenting it to people is a way of opening a discussion. Get people together and get them to talk about what works and what doesn't resonate," says Nikolic.

3. Hone your presentation technique

Make sure you can summarise effectively why the business should invest in your technology plans. Evidence suggests a snappy slide deck, for example, will be crucial to helping get your points across.

As you hone your presentation style, don't be scared to seek the advice of people who are experienced in talking about IT. The top technologists have made a career of selling their ideas to the board – and they use a range of techniques to pique their interest.

CIOs often use 'town hall meetings' to bring people together and to discuss plans. Other digital leaders create regular communication updates, such as emails or even printed newsletters, to keep people up to date with plans and achievements.

4. Get a big-name sponsor

One of the best ways to get people to listen to your plans is to get someone with gravitas to do the talking for you.

If you can get backing from a senior executive for your ideas, then other people around the business are much more likely to sit up and take notice.

Industry experts recognise that executive sponsors play a key role in facilitating technology projects. They give new ideas credibility, they authorise funding and resources, and undertake important employee-facing activities. 

Adam Miller, group head of IT at Markerstudy Group, says sponsorship from senior business leaders is crucial to ensuring new projects are understood and accepted – and it's something he continues to focus on as he pushes for new investment.

"I have regular discussions around the activities I'm working on and the direction we're going in. And we focus on alignment to make sure that technology continues to deliver what the organisation needs to achieve its growth ambitions," he says.

5. Always think of long-term objectives

An investment in technology is never a one-time hit – contracts need updating, cloud services agreements can be expanded, and hardware can break and need replacing.

Anyone who wants to secure funding for a new technology project must focus on how an investment in IT fits with the strategic plans of the business. 

Jon Braithwaite, UK and Ireland CIO at Compass Group, says it's always important to talk about how the technology you intend to build or buy can be scaled up or down over time.

"We pilot, we trial, and then, when we understand it works, we invest properly in it and scale it up and do everything that needs to be done to make it into a product," he says.

"I think that process just gives everybody a feeling that we're careful and judicious about how we spend the money, but that we're also trying to be innovative as well."

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