The world is changing. And technology is changing consumer expectations. The way we receive or buy information, goods and services has changed radically in the last decade.
This truism is prompting many traditional businesses to reconsider how they define their core business operations. IT as a competitive advantage is increasingly becoming a driving force in many business sectors.
The argument, therefore, for ensuring that IT functions have dedicated, expert communicators who can help all stakeholders – from IT employees to customers – understand the transformative role of IT is compelling. If users have some understanding of the increasingly pivotal role that IT is playing in the business in delivering competitive advantage / customer benefits, they may show increased tolerance for the (hopefully) occasional but almost certainly inevitable service disruptions along the way.
As an internal communications specialist operating primarily in a change management environment where employee engagement has been a central theme, I’m more used to working with HR than IT. When I was appointed to a new role supporting an IT function going through a significant transformation, it was on the strength of my change and employee engagement credentials rather than any previous experience within IT. This was, I thought, an enlightened and very encouraging approach.
However, appointing a person with the skills you need is just the first step. Enabling the appointee to be effective in the role requires patience, open minds and consistent support and sponsorship from the leadership team.
It’s not unusual that communication support for a change programme is engaged fairly late in the day. At this point it’s often hard to distinguish between the urgent and the important. The communication leads can find themselves increasingly sucked into a quagmire of urgent communications briefed by colleagues who understand every minute technical detail about what is planned and, usually at this late stage, how and when, but little thought has been given to the business context of why or the impact on users.
An IT performance dashboard that reports on whether a core business system is available or not available but completely overlooks the fact that customer advisers are having to wait minutes for pages to load instead of seconds, will ensure that the IT function providing such a report will have little credibility.
I would argue that the priority for anyone providing IT with communications support is not delivering timely announcements of forthcoming changes, but ensuring that the entire IT function has some understanding of the business impact of any degradation in a system’s performance.