IT vs. C-Suite: How to crack the language barrier

Earning exec buy-in for your next IT initiative may depend on your ability to clearly explain how it supports the bottom line. Consider these tips to improve communications
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IT skills like  artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and cybersecurity are in high demand right now - but one of the most important and underrated skills for IT professionals has been in demand for decades: the ability to communicate in business terms.

Here are three ways I’ve taught my IT team to speak less tech and more business.

Too often, IT professionals speak to business leaders as if they understand the same context and intangible details around technical concepts that IT teams live and breathe every day. As a result, requests and valuable insights get lost in translation.

When IT can turn a technology need into a business imperative, build lines of communication across an organization, and demonstrate the team’s value to the company, both IT and the business can achieve their goals, and everyone wins.

[ For more tips to strengthen your communication skills, read Communication tips: How to harness the power of pause. ]

Three ways IT leaders can improve communication

While some people are naturally strong communicators, speaking business is an acquired skill. Here are three ways I’ve taught my IT team to speak less tech and more business.

1. Understand the business goals

Business and IT roles often have radically different day-to-day priorities. But from a broader perspective, they’re all working toward the same company goals. Teaching IT professionals to effectively communicate with non-technical employees starts with understanding the larger business goals their work supports.

One example is digital transformation. For IT, that might mean migrating workloads and data to the cloud, managing hybrid infrastructures, adopting DevOps processes, and more. But all of that supports larger business goals like reducing costs, increasing automation and efficiency, and improving customer service.

With these larger goals in mind, IT teams can better understand and articulate the business motivations behind their work.

2. Map technology to business needs

Once your IT team can zero in on the organization’s business goals and objectives, they can begin mapping technology strategies to business needs.

Speaking with a business colleague around colocation and hybrid cloud will likely cause confusion, misunderstandings, and maybe even droopy eyelids.

By identifying the other side of the coin for each project, IT can better articulate its work and its impact to business audiences, from business unit managers all the way up to the C-suite and board. Speaking with a business colleague around colocation and hybrid cloud will likely cause confusion, misunderstandings, and maybe even droopy eyelids, but if you frame the discussion around their business needs, strategic priorities, and costs, you’ll be much more likely to have a productive conversation.

It’s ultimately about understanding what business challenges the technology addresses, from increasing speed and efficiency to hiring or retaining employees to satisfying customers.

3. Forget specs and capabilities: Talk ROI and impact

The business side of the house typically doesn’t care about tech specs, but it does care about efficiency, revenue, and cost-effectiveness. Return on investment (ROI) and impact are your shared language.

Return on investment (ROI) and impact are your shared language.

When IT is making the case for new investment in technology, reporting progress on implementation, or demonstrating the value of its work, teach your team to focus on how the technology produces positive business outcomes.

Data can speak louder than words in the ears of the CEO and other company leadership. Use what you know about the organization’s business goals and objectives to present data and numbers that back up your technology strategies.

Maybe it’s the potential revenue from implementing new software, or the possible cost savings from migrating workloads to the cloud. No matter the situation, data-driven insights add strong evidence to your case.

ROI is especially powerful. Teach your team to vastly improve their case by projecting cost savings or a revenue generation opportunity, especially if new technology will quickly pay for itself.

By zeroing in on ROI and impact, IT can connect the dots for leadership and help them see the business value of technology.

Getting everyone on the same page

IT and business leaders ultimately want the same thing: to see the company flourish.

But while the end goal is the same, the plan to get there sometimes gets lost in translation. This failure to communicate boils down to IT and business leaders speaking completely different languages.

By discussing technical concepts in terms of business goals, mapping IT initiatives to business needs, and presenting data on ROI and impact, IT teams will have a much easier time communicating with non-technical employees and earning buy-in from business leaders on the planned IT strategy.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Haim Glickman, Senior Vice President, Global Solutions Engineering at Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS), has over 25 years of IT experience. Haim holds a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology from the University of Phoenix.

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